Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Scorry Breck Alpacas

Jo, Katie & I went to visit Rainer Goetze of Scorry Breck Alpaca in Woodlawn, about 35 minutes out of Ottawa. Mrs. Goetze wasn't able to join us, but her husband was a wonderful host, giving us a delightful and informative tour of their farm. It was simply beautiful, with a picturesque view of the river and mountains... My, oh my... And seeing the alpacas in person for the first time - just wonderful. They were about a foot taller than I had expected, but oh so beautiful. Very curious, but cautious. Mr. Goetze singled out a few of the 7 month old crias to show us what to look for in their fibre and conformation. He demonstrated how to check for density by grabbing a handful of fibre at their sides (I was really surprised by just how much was in a handful) , and how to separate the fleece to see the crimp, colour and bundling. The crias were so soft that I literally could have brushed off the hay and spun the fibre straight off their backs.

After interacting with the animals, we went inside, where Katie, Jo and the kids watched Ice Age, and Mr. Goetze spoke with me about the business side of raising Alpacas. He was a bit disturbed that I hadn't written down questions to ask him, although he seemed to appreciate that I had "done my homework". I knew what 'double registered' meant; that females are basically pregnant their entire lives; that males have their fighting teeth removed... I was even able to identify the males' fencing as ElectroBraid ;)

To be honest, I didn't have to write down my questions because I really didn't have many. I had spent so long reading about Alpacas on the internet that I felt fairly confident in my head-knowledge. The questions I had were South-Eastern Ontario-specific and more subjective, experience-based than textbook; I figured they would all be answered as Mr. Goetze talked us though our tour - What kind of shelter he used (small barn for females & crias, 3-sided shelter for males); what he fed them in the winter (hay & a cup of specially formulated pellets); how he administered vaccines (he took a course & watched his vet the first year); how much time his small herd required per day (2 hours); how much his animals costs in upkeep per year ($200), etc.. I guess those are the questions I should have written down, but they seemed so obvious that I didn't feel I needed to. Like if you took a tour of a local bakery, most people would probably ask the same questions - How long have you been in the business, what do you bake, how do you make those braided breads, etc. You don't write them down, because the tour itself either gives you the information as you go, or the experience prompts you to ask the questions at the appropriate time. A good tour-guide knows exactly what information the visitors want to know, and so tells them. An excellent tour-guide knows exactly what information the visitors should want to know, and so tells them... Mr. Goetze was an excellent 'tour-guide'.

So, I had most of my answers; what I was lacking was hands-on experience - seeing how the animals reacted to strangers, how they are coaxed into the barn, how to handle scared crias... I really needed to watch the animals in their environment, being handled by their owner. That's why visiting the farm was so wonderful - it gave an experience with the animals themselves. However, I don't think I could be truly confident with them until I actually had a pair of my own.

If I might philosophize for a moment, it's like going swimming on the beach in March. You know you want to swim, and you know it'll be fantastic once you're in. The problem is physically getting into the water. You can estimate the temperature with your fingers or toes, but you can never truly experience the water until you're floating on your back with your hair swirling around your head. Getting from the shore to under the water is the most agonizing part of swimming. You really only have 2 options - to slowly wade in or take the plunge.

Slowly wading into the water is absolutely the most awful way to adjust to the temperature. Sure, it's gradual, and won't send you into vagal shock, but you feel every millimiter of coldness creeping up your body. Each wave finds new skin to torture. You're shivering so intensely that you could be mistaken for an epileptic. Then, once you're finally up to your neck, the chill clings to you. Your body is so tense from shaking that you can't loosen up and enjoy the water.

Plunging in, on the other hand, is an immediate, intense shock; the cold engulfs you so suddenly that your lungs freeze up and your knees become permanantly attached to your chin. If you've done it right, however, you've landed deep enough that you are forced to move your arms or legs in order to stay afloat. The movements heat your muscles and, in less than a minute, the cold fades away. You're able to enjoy your swim, without all that tension from shivering for 10 minutes as you inched into the water.

I think that's how it is with raising Alpacas.

Goin' to see Alpacas!

Jo called me this morning to ask when we should leave for Scorry Breck Alpaca farm. I had completely forgotten! We had to leave in an hour if we were going to make it there on time.

On a completely different note, our beautiful kitten, Butters (now almost 6 months), has been jumping into the bathtub lately, and just laying in there. I wasn't sure if she wanted a bath, or what, so I filled the tub with a couple inches of warm water. As I was typing, I heard a rather large splash... and then a rather annoyed meow as she scrambled out. She's peering over the ledge of the tub right now from the safety of the bathroom floor. I guess she didn't want a bath, but now she'll look before she leaps ;)

La Beccharie's Original Tiramisu

If you haven't noticed by now, I currently have a thing for Tiramisu...

The next recipe I will test on my road to the most delicious, fresh and simple Tiramisu is what Anna Maria Volpi claims to be the original recipe from La Beccherie.

It has the simplicity of ingredients I am looking for (no gelatine, condensed milk, etc); it is only *slightly* more complicated than my current recipe, through the addition of whipped cream. I might have a problem with finding 1.5c of espresso, though - I don't have an espresso maker, and I've never ordered it before. I have a feeling that even if I use the Mascarpone Cream of this recipe, I'll go back to my current method of 1 part strong coffee, 1 part kahlua. So that begs the question - what's different in this cream? Less Zabaglione, more Cheese/Cream. We shall see...

Le Beccherie's Tiramisu

Mascarpone Cream
4 egg yolks - whip
1/2 cup (100 gr) sugar - whisk in
1/2 cup (120 cc) Marsala wine (if not available substitute with other sweet wine like port or Madeira) - whisk in, then heat over double boiler
1 lb (450 gr) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature - cream, then whisk in Zabaglione
1 cup (230 cc) heavy whipping cream - whip, then fold in

10 oz (285 gr) savoiardi (ladyfinger cookies) (approximately 40)

Coffee dip
1 -1/2 cups (360 cc) espresso coffee
2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons bitter cocoa powder

My cooking philosphy

I'm not a fan of adding too much to a good thing. I believe that the best things a recipe could have going for it are fresh & natural ingrediants, simplicity and ease of construction. I don't want to use powders, packaged mixes, gelatine, margarine, processed cheese, etc..

Pam Anderson's Mushroom-Stuffed Chicken Breasts in a Balsamic Pan Sauce has a good example of what I don't want. It uses both dried and fresh mushrooms. Now, I'm sure there is a taste differential when using both mushrooms, instead of just one, and I'm not against using dried foodstuff (sometimes there is no other way when you require a certain result - dried cranberries & stuffing). However, you really have to balance that difference with the extra time and complication required when you use both. I made this recipe using only fresh mushrooms, and it turned out beautifully. It was also incredibly simple to make. Even if the dish tasted 15% better with dried mushrooms (doubtful, since I'm not that big a fan of mushrooms), I wouldn't add them because they require 20% more effort, and a couple more steps for me to mess up. If, on the other had, I were to make a dessert which required a chocolate sauce, I would go the extra mile to create a simple home-made version, rather than use a preservative-loaded, over-sugared store-bought brand.

I do, however, have a few packaged crutches I rely on, mostly because I haven't taken the time to figure out how to prepare them from scratch:

1. Uncle Ben's Fast & Fancy rice is simply wonderful. I tend to put most of my cooking effort into the meat or vegetables, and I forget about the traditionally mandatory starch (I'm slightly allergic to both rice and potatoes, so they're not terribly important to me) These little packs are the perfect size (4 servings), and they require very little attention (although I really should set a timer, the next time I make one).

2. I have a thing for the old Duncan Hine's brownie mix, however they recently changed the packaging and the formula; they have lost their wonderfully dense texture. We're currently settling for Quaker's brownie mix, but we haven't made brownies in quite some time, which is a pretty good indication of our disappointment. I think I might just have to start looking for a homemade brownie recipe...

3. Jello chocolate pudding mix: I have no clue how to make pudding, and these packages are terribly easy and fast enough to satisfy my chocolate cravings.

4. President's Choice sauces, primarily Memories of Kobe, but more recently their other varieties. I love how fast and flavourful they are - I just dump them over meat, roast, then make gravy with watered down whole wheat flour. The taste is too amazing and too easy to pass up. I might have a change of heart if I looked into homemade sauces. Once I found one, I'd have to buy portion-sized canning jars so I could make a batch ahead of time. Then I could just pop open a bottle and dump it over the meat. Hmmm.. that sounds like a great idea. After I perfect the Tiramisu recipe (or my DH bans me from buying more Mascarpone cheese), I'll have to look into sauces and marinades which can be canned. Hmmm... I like that idea - if we ever have company over, and they like the meat, then I can send them home with a bottle of sauce :)

PM Stephen Harper

I don't really know much about the man - I just wanted to see how the title looks next to his name :)

Josh, Aiden, Cory & I watched the votes coming in this evening at Jared's. I was quite amused to hear Jared list off adjectives for each Liberal candidate. His description of Belinda was rather... harsh. I'm not well-versed on political issues, so Jared spent the evening trying to explain to me how fantastic it was that some Quebec ridings were overwhelmingly Conservative, and how a number of the so-called Liberals were actually ProLife-Sanctity of Marriage-social conservatives... I'm just glad to finally have a Tory government, even if it is a minority. Praise God!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Tiramisu's Precursor?

Yes, I have a thing about Tiramisus now...

I was looking through a classic recipe book my Gramma passed down to me, "Encyclopedia of Canadian Cuisine" (Canadian Home Magazine, 2nd printing, 1963). This gem by Madame Benoit was rated by the Vancouver Public Library as 19th out of 133 "books of the century". Anyway, I was trying to find a recipe for Ladyfingers (p.548) or Zabaglione (p. 738-9), and I stumbled across a picture of a familiar looking recipe...

Coffee Charlotte Russe (p.751)

1 envelope gelatine
1/2c sugar
1/8t slt
2T instant coffee
1 1/4c milk
2 eggs, separated
1/2t vanilla
1c whipping cream
8-12 ladyfingers

1. Mix together 1/4c sugar, gelatine, salt and instant coffee in top of double boiler. Beat the milk with the egg yolks; add to the gelatine mixture. Cook in double boiler over boiling water, stirring constatly, for approximately 5 minutes or until the gelatine is dissolved. Remove from heat, add the vanilla. Refrigerate until the mixture is half set.

2. Beat the egg whites, add the 1/4c remaining sugar, beat until peaks form.

3. Fold the half-set coffee mixture in the stiff egg whites. Whip the cream and add.

4. Set the ladyfingers all around individual molds, or a crystal bowl. Pour the cream and refrigerate from 4-12 hours.

In the photograph, which caught my eye, the ladyfingers look as though the tips have been dipped in chocolate, and there is a light dusting of dark powder (cocoa?) on the top of the cream, There's also whipped cream decorating the bottom edge.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Spinning Alpaca

I still have an urge to cook or bake... perhaps cookies?

Perhaps I can keep my mind of cooking by knitting - haven't knit in a while. My "Scarf of First Spuns" is waiting for the next installment, the South African Top, as well as the little bit of Alpaca I spun today. Man, there is such a difference between wool and Alpaca. I don't think I can truly explain how slippery Alpaca is compared to wool. It just floats right out of your fingers... I had to lower the tension to almost nothing just so the wheel wouldn't pull the fibre out of my hands before I could set the twist on the part I just draughted. Once I got the hang of it though, it was like magic. I'm a bit worried about how overspun it is though...

We'll see.

Tiramisu #3

So... DH & I finished off Tiramisu #2, which means I had to make another for tomorrow's election soirée at Jared's. I figured I would just double everything, and do it exactly the same as #2.

I popped 6 egg yolks (now I have a dozen egg whites...) into the double boiler with 3/4c white sugar, stirred until it thickened, then added 1/2c Marsala . I was adding the Mascarpone when I realized that I only had 1 tub of cheese...

So what do I do? halve the Zabaglione? or just toss in half the Masacrpone I should have?

I decided to just use what I had. I figured it would turn out more custardy and less cheesy... might as well try it out... I'll just use the same size springform pan, instead of a large one.

Presentation of this one was important (I wasn't going to be the only one eating it), so I wrapped the bottom and sides in baking parchment. That was an adventure in and of itself, but it got done, and looked like it would hold in the dessert until it set.

Everything else was the same - 1/3c strong coffee with 1/3c Kahlua. I dipped the Ladyfingers a bit quicker, and made sure to place them sugar side up (I just felt like it). Then I poured over the custardy layer. This is where I ran into a new problem... the Ladyfingers decided to float.

Ummm... yeah. I tried pushing them back down and holding them there, but they just floated right back up. After contemplating this dilemma, I decided to just keep on on going. The Tiramisu would taste the same, right? The layers would just be a little wonky... I put the rest of the layers on, covered it in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge to set.

Now, can someone tell me why the biscuits decided to float?

So... here's what I did differently:

1. Wrapped the pan in baking parchment
- This shouldn't have affected the top layer

2. Didn't let the coffee mixture cool
- It was about lukewarm when I dipped the Ladyfingers

3. Dipped the Ladyfingers faster
- I flipped them over once instead of twice. Less liquid absorbed = more air inside

4. Half the amount of Mascarpone cheese in the custard
- The custard had a different density.

5. Didn't let the Mascarpone mixture chill
- It was lukewarm by the time I poured it into the pan, but it was almost as thick as Tiramisu #2

Oh well... I'll dust it heavily with cocoa powder, and no one will be the wiser ;)

Update: I brought the Tiramisu to Jared's for the Election Watch, and it was a resounding success :) The baking parchment was useless in the end, I forgot the extra lady fingers and it was a a bit too liquidy to stand up on it's own. Of course, I only discovered that after removing the springform pan... I ended up flipping the cake back into the pan, which, incidently, fixed the problem of the floating Ladyfingers :) I sponged the drips off the side, scraped the leaked custard off the baking parchment, and back into the pan, heavily dusted it all with cocoa powder, and Voila! I had a perfect looking Tiramisu. It had to be scooped out of the pan with a serving spoon, but hey! It tasted darned good! Aiden said he didn't know what Tiramisu was supposed to taste or look like, but that I could bring this to every function :D

In short, I was happy with the taste, it just needed to be more firm ;) Now, how do I make it more firm without drastically changing the taste? Do I add more cheese, more eggs, less Marsala or try whipped cream? Do I cook the eggs longer? If all else fails, I can toss in some unflavooured gelatine... but I'd rather keep it on the more natural side of things :P

Mushroom & Chèvre Stuffed Chicken

When DH & I went shopping a couple days ago, he wouldn't let me pick up the pork tenderloin I wanted for Johannah's Roasted Garlic & Chèvre Pork Tenderloin because he wanted me to use up the fresh chicken thighs sitting in our fridge. I had a craving to do something stuffed with goat cheese, so I checked out AllRecipes.com and searched for recipes containing Chicken and Goat cheese, but not tomatoes. I found Mushroom-Stuffed Chicken Breasts in a Balsamic Pan Sauce by USA Weekend columnist Pam Anderson. I thought it looked pretty decent, but it didn't have any reviews - I love reading the reviews for suggestions - and I didn't have half of the ingredients...

DH has this thing about not wanting me to buy stuff unless I have an immediate use for it. Now, that's a good practice... if you own a car. We can't just make a quick trip out to the grocery store to pick up that ingredient we need for dinner... We have to plan in advance - borrow our parents' car, or lug heavy groceries around in our backpacks on the bus...

I have this crazy idea that if something can be kept indefinitely, we have the storage space, it's not crazy expensive, doesn't seem like the kind of thing that goes on sale, and I can see myself using it in the next 6 months, regardless of whether or not I have a specific date and recipe for it, then we should pick it up. That way, it's on hand for when I need it. I'm not in the habit yet of planning meals ahead of time, which means that if I don't have what I need to make something, it doesn't get made.

You'll note that the recipe says "Balsamic Pan Suace". A while ago, DH & I went grocery shopping. I picked out a bottle of Balsamic vinegar, and put it in the cart. DH asked me what I needed that for, and said if I didn't need it right away, then I should put it back, "Honestly, do you see yourself ever using that?"

Now here's what annoys me the most - I couldn't remember if I had put it back. This happens rather frequently; sometimes I agree with him, and others times...

Apparently, I had conceded, because we didn't have an ounce of Balsamic vinegar in the house. -all we had was Sherry vinegar. I have no clue what the difference between vinegars is, so, of course, I Googled it (see a recurring pattern forming here?). I couldn't find what I was looking for as fast as I wanted to, so I decided to go for it anyway. I had to tweak the recipe a bit anyway because we didn't have dried mushrooms, I don't have a kitchen scale (well, we do, but DH thought I'd never use it, so it's in storage), we were using chicken thighs instead of breasts, and I prefer using whole wheat flour instead of corn starch for making gravy. Oh, and DH commented previously that goat cheese tasted "too goaty", and he doesn't like strong mushrooms...

Here's what I ended up with:

Mushroom & Chèvre Stuffed Chicken
Serves 4-5

2 'glugs' Olive Oil
8 large cloves of Garlic (it really mellows, so don't worry)
1 package of large White Mushrooms
1.5t Ground Thyme
2 'logs' of Soft Unripened Goat Cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste

1/4c Honey
1/4c Balsamic Vinegar (ideally, but I used Sherry Vinegar, and it turned out nicely)

8 Skin-on Chicken thighs OR 4 Skin-on, Boneless Chicken Breasts, trimmed of excess fat

1/2c Water
1/4c Whole Wheat Flour

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 425F.
1. Trim mushrooms stems and chop mushrooms finely. Combine with crush garlic, thyme, salt & pepper.
2. Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushroom mixture; saute until nearly all moisture has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn off heat, stir in cheese. Set aside.
3. Debone chicken, leaving skin intact. Push fingers under skin to make a pocket; stuff with mushroom mixture. Arrange in a casserole dish.
4. Combine honey & vinegar in a small bowl (microwave to melt honey if neccessary). Brush mixture over stuffed chicken.

Here's where I had trouble. Well before the chicken was ready, the chicken skins burnt where they had been stuffed . I think I should have covered the chicken for the first half hour, and then uncovered for the last 5-10 minutes?

5. Roast until golden brown, adding water if necessary to keep pan drippings from burning, until a meat thermometer registers 160 degrees in the thickest portion of the largest piece, 30 to 45 minutes. Transfer chicken to a platter.
6. In a small saucepan, whisk water with flour. Scrape pan juices into saucepan. Whisking constantly, bring to a simmer; continue to simmer until it thickens a bit.
7. Arange stuffed chicken on plates and drizzle with sauce.

Serve with wild rice and green vegetables.

DH said that not only was the goat cheese not too "goaty", but also that the mushrooms weren't too strong either. I think the extra garlic and thyme worked well.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Tiramisu #2 Well, I think it's perfect

Last night, I decided I was going to make the best Tiramisu on earth. My only problem was that I had the wrong Marsala...

When I asked the guy at the LCBO for Marsala wine, I should have specified that I wanted sweet Marsala for making Zabaglione. Instead, I got "Dessert Dry Wine". I didn't know there was such a thing as a dry dessert wine - I thought the definition of a dessert wine was that it was sweet... *sigh*... Well, I didn't want to open the bottle only to find out that it was horribly bitter, so I Googled Marsala wines, and tried to figure out if Zabaglione could indeed be made with dry Marsala. I found a few sites that seemed to indicate that it was possible (the Sperone wine I bought only had Italian information, so it wasn't much help), I just needed to add more sugar. But I didn't want to add too much sugar, so I decided to wait until the wine was in before adding the extra sugar.

I put on a pot of double-stength coffee for the Ladyfingers, then when about making the Zabaglione. I took 6 eggs, divided them (and remembered to save the egg whites for something else), and popped the yolks in the double boiler with 6T white sugar. I whisked over the steam until the eggs thickened, then took them off the heat and slowly stirred in 1/2c Marsala. The recipe called for a full cup, but I didn't want to overdo the liquor and waste another batch. I decided to split the Zabaglione in half and make a smaller batch with half the Marsala, and then decide afterwords what to do for the second.

I creamed a 275g tub of Mascarpone cheese, then added it to my divided Zabaglione. After it was nicely mixed in, I tasted it see how much more sugar I should put in. I figured it needed twice the sugar, and it also needed more liquid to make up for the 1/2c of Marsala I left out. Since the Zabaglione was divided, I boiled some water and dissolved 3T of sugar in 1/4c of water. The Marsala was still noticeable (I decided I didn't really like the taste), but fairly pleasant altogether. I was worried that it would be too watery (it had the consistency of sweetened whipped cream before you whip it), but figured it would stiffen up in the fridge over night.

The Italian Ladyfingers (which looked suspiciously like French Ladyfingers - hard, with sugar on top) were next. The coffee had cooled by this point, and was ready for dipping. I made a last minute decision to use some Kahlua, so I took 1/3c strong coffee (really bitter straight up) and 1/3c Kahlua. I quickly dipped the biscuits in the mixture, rolling them over to make sure they were nicely coated (maybe 1 second on each side), and placed them in a 7 inch springform pan. I then scooped over a little less than half of the custard, did another layer of dipped Ladyfingers, then finished off with the remaining Mascarpone mixture.

At this point, I was really worried about how liquidy the custard layer was. I also noticed that it was seeping through the spring form pan, so I covered the bottom with plastic wrap, and gently placed my concoction in the fridge, praying that it would turn out.

While I was making dinner this evening (mushroom, garlic, thyme & goat cheese stuffed chicken thighs with wild rice and corn niblets), I decided to test my Tiramisu to see how goopy and tasty it was. I took a small spoonful from the side, figuring I could cover the hole with a Ladyfinger...

It was fantastic! I don't really remember what a classic Tiramisu tastes like, so I couldn't really compare, but what I was tasting at that moment was beautiful. The Mascarpone layer had stiffened up nicely, and the Ladyfingers were damp, but not soggy with the coffee/Kahlua (another day and I think they'll be more evenly saturated). I rushed off with another spoonful to let DH try my wonderful comcoction. Unfortunately, he's coming down with a cold, so he couldn't taste it... at least he couldn't tell me it tasted bad ;)

The small whole in my Tiramisu was slowly growing. I couldn't wait until Monday at Jared's. I had to take a full piece. I told myself that I can always make another one...

The custardy layer on its own was more cheesy than I would have liked (I'm not a huge fan of Mascarpone cheese), and the Ladyfinger layer on its own was really sweet and the coffee was overpowering, but together - together they were marvelous.

After dinner, I realized that I had forgotten to sprinkle cocao on top, so I just had to try another piece... the whole has grown to about 1/4 of the pan... I think I'll be making another Tiramisu tonight, and I think I'll add the extra 1/4c Marsala, and see if it's too much.

Final recipe for Tiramisu, 7 1/4" springform pan, serves 8

3 egg yolks
6T white sugar
1/4c Sperone dry Marsala wine (if using sweet wine, then use 3T sugar instead of 6)
1/4c water
275g tub Tre Stelle Mascarpone cheese

1/3c doubly strong coffee
1/3c Kahlua
2 packages of Ladyfingers (hard, sugar coated)

Unsweetened Cocoa to dust

At least 24 hours before serving:

1. Put on a small pot of doubly strong coffee.

2. In a double boiler, whisk egg yolks and sugar until mixture thickens.

3. Take off heat, whisk in Marsala and water to make Zabaglione.

4. In a medium bowl, beat Mascarpone cheese until soft. Slowly stir in Zabaglione, whisk until smooth.

5. In a shallow bowl, combine strong coffee and Kahlua.

6. Quickly dip Ladyfingers in coffee mixture, making sure to coat both sides. Place in a single layer on a small (7 1/4") springform/cheesecake pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with plastic wrap to prevent spillage.

7. Spoon half of Mascarpone/Zabaglione mixture over the dipped Ladyfingers.

8. Dip more Ladyfingers into the coffee mixture, and place over the Mascarpone layer.

9. Spoon the rest of the Mascarpone mixture over the dipped Ladyfingers.

10. Cover the top with plastic wrap, make sure the bottom layer of wrap is secure, and place in the fridge. The Tiramisu must set for at least 24 hours, however the flavours are most satisfying after 2-3 days in the fridge.

Just before serving:

11. Gently open the spring form pan, using a knife to separate the sides from the cake.

12. Cut leftover Ladyfingers in half and apply them vertically to the sides of the Tiramisu, cut side down.

13. Liberally dust the top with Unsweetened Cocoa powder. If desired, use strips of baking parchment to make stripes.

Serve with coffee and sliced strawberries.

Friday, January 20, 2006


I went out today to satisfy my itch to spin. Yarn Forward was out of Fleece Artist roving (FYI - 20% all regular priced yarns!), but they pointed me in the direction of Knit-Knackers on 40 James St. It was a lovely home with bins of wool and fibre in one room, and what looked like shelves of yarn in another. I'm not too sure, because I couldn't get past the first room ;)

I told the lady at the desk (I'm so bad with names) that I was a fairly new spinner, and I was looking for the next step up from what I had been using (apparently it was Corriedale wool). She asked if I was using a drop spindle, and for some reason the word "spinning wheel" flew out of my head (it happens often enough to be worrisome), so I just pointed to the Louet S15 in the corner, and said I was using that... She offered to find the owner whom knew more about differences in fibre texture.

The owner was a lovely woman, very friendly. I said I was a new spinner looking for advice, and she asked if I was using a drop spindle (is it unusual to start on an actual spinning wheel? I never could get the hang of the homemade drop spindles...). She then took me through a primer on various wool textures. She said that if she got me started on a certain Merino wool (again, can't recall the name), that I'd be spoiled for life. She said South African Top would be a great wool to advance to after the Corriedale. I could then mix in some Alpaca with it for a bit more slip. Alpaca? I've been thinking about raising them, I said... she laughed and said that she raises Angora rabbits. She's about due for a new litter this week - if I wanted to try my hand at raising fibre animals, I should probably start there.

Well, what could I say? I dream big ;)

I ended up purchasing around 100g of both South African Top and Alpaca ($4 each for a bunch of roving the size of my head - and I have an unusually large head thanks to my Father's side of the family) - creamy white, perfect for dyeing, if I so choose. I couldn't stop feeling the Alpaca... even at the Bible study - I had to show everyone what alpaca fur felt like. I think they might have a better idea of why I want to raise Alpacas...

Speaking of which - I just remembered my High School graduation! We had to write down a little blurb for the teacher to read while we received our diplomas. Mine said something to the effect of "plans to raise Llamas and Alpacas for their wool"... I also wore white pants and no socks or shoes under the gown, but that's neither here nor there... The point is - I've been talking about raising Alpacas since 2001!

Oh! Totally changing the subject (but I get to do that, since I'm the only one here... man it's lonely writing a blog) Please pray for two of my friends (they're getting married in a few months). They are both studying in the same field, and have a crazy problem at school. One of the assignments they handed in was insanely similar, and they are being charged with academic fraud. From what I understand, they used the same notes from a previous class to fill in the sheet, and ended up with nearly identical answers. They didn't work together, nor discuss their answers afterwards, but it looks as though they copied each other's work. Please pray that God would be their Rock and Stronghold through the inquiry, and that the board would understand their defense. I mean, seriously - if they did copy each other's notes, don't you think they'd make it a little less conspicuous? They are in a class of 15, for goodness sake! They don't know when the meeting will take place, but it will be at least a week, since their teachers are off... that's at least a full week of restless nights worrying about false accusations. Please pray that they will rest the situation in God's hands, knowing that they have done all that they can do until the meeting (they made a 40 page brief detailing which phrases were taken directly from the notes, along with a whole bunch of other legal stuff - anyway, please pray for them; I believe God answers prayers).

I've spun about half of the South African Top, and think it's time for bed. The Tiramisu was a bomb, by the way, even Jared didn't wantto take it home.... Please, if you ever want to make Tiramisu with Brandy instead of Marsala, use 1 part Brandy, 1 part sugar, 2 parts water. I really hope my next one turns out, or I'm going to give the whole Tiramisu business up.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Spinning Itch

I had an urge to spin this evening, so I hopped on the bus and headed into Kanata's Yarn Forward looking to buy some Fleece Artist roving. Three buses and 45 minutes later, I arrive at the yarn shop - which has been closed for 2 hours. Perhaps I should have double-checked the hours of operation...

All was not lost, however - Yarn Forward is close to Dollarama, a decent Shawarma place, Farm Boy, LCBO, Bulk Barn and Pet Valu.

I stopped in at Dollarama hoping to find some unspun wool or cotton or anything to get me my spinning fix. Nada - but I did find a couple packages of Ladyfingers. Hmmm... might as well pick them up and try my Tiramisu again...

I stopped in at the Shawarma place for a chicken sandwich - the place smelt and looked like a rather large fire had just been put out. An entire side of beef was charred black, so I had a pretty good idea of what had happened not too long before I entered.

I finished my sandwich and wandered into Farm Boy for some Mascarpone cheese. They had the exact same brand I bought at Loblaws, but a buck fifty cheaper - Gar! I was really hoping they'd have a more "Italian" brand to try, but beggars can't be choosers - Mascarpone isn't exactly easy to get a hold of at 8pm.

Next stop was the LCBO for some Marsala. My breath still reeked of Shawarma so I didn't want to ask anyone where I could find the sweet wine. After searching the store twice and coming up empty-handed, I finally asked an emplyee where I could find Marsala. I tried to stay as far away as possible - I think my breath could have knocked over a small child four feet away...

I wandered around the store a bit longer, trying to find the smallest bottles of some of the more common liquors for baking. I picked up some Kahlua, Rum and Irish Cream to add to my Brandy. I figured that would give me a decent selection.

If I really wanted to stock a liquor cabinet, I'd still need some Whiskey (Rye, Bourbon, or Scotch?), Tequila, Vodka, & Gin (does anyone still drink that?), then perhaps some Port, Sherry, Sweet & Dry Vermouth. If I felt really adventurous, there's always triple sec (Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Orange Curacao, etc), Creme de Cacao, Pernod, Maraschino, & herb-flavoured Cordials (Benedictine, Campari, Chartreuse, etc), and to round things off, Grenadine and Orgeat syrups.... But I think I'm good for now..

After realizing alcohol is mighty expensive, I wandered into Bulk Barn and grabbed some Cinnamon Hearts. I figured they might mask the supreme garlic odour emanating from my stomach... After that, I wandered by Pet Valu and just barely remembered that Butters was out of Nutro Natural Choice Kitten Formula. We've been out for over a week, and Butters has been giving me some rather rude looks for daring to feed her the Wellness Super5 and Chicken Soup For the Soul brands (when I first adopted Butters, I went out and bought the best formulas I could find, and let her decide which she liked the best. Nutro was the hands down winner - you wouldn't believe how hard it is to get her to eat the rest). Thankfully, it's fairly common (unlike her wet cat food - Felidae Chicken, Turkey, Lamb & Fish Formula for All Life Stages), and they stocked a lovely 10 lb bag for $25. That should keep her happy for quite some time.

So now I have Mascarpone, Marsala and Ladyfingers. Should I put some coffee on to brew now, or wait until Friday to make it? If I wait until Friday, then I can bring it to Jared's for the election watch. Or I can make it today, and eat it myself on Saturday....

If I can't sleep tonight, I know what I'll be doing ;)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Tiramisu #1

I called my Mum last night and asked to go grocery shopping. Thankfully, she hadn't gone on the weekend, so we checked out the fliers and hit all the sales - went to 4 different stores. I was out of a lot of basics, so I think I spent around $200. I'm not sure if we saved any money if you factored in the gas & time, but it sure does feel good to walk out of a store with a cart-full of sale items ;)

I had a craving to make Tiramisu, but I only knew that I'd need Mascarpone cheese and Ladyfingers. The cheese was really expensive - $5.99/275g, but I picked up 2 anyway. Milano's Giant Ladyfingers were $0.69/12 at Loblaws, instead of $0.99 elsewhere, so I picked up 4 packs.

After unloading the groceries and cleaning the kitchen (which is a whole other story), it was around midnight. I tried going to bed, but I was in a get up and do something mood (from spending 2 hours cleaning), so I decided to make my Tiramisu...

I didn't have the whipped cream, heavy cream, or cream cheese that most recipes on allrecipes.com called for, so I went with a basic, traditional(-ish) type from ChefMom.com, made with Marsala (sweet wine) and without additional cream. The only problem was I didn't have Marsala, so I substituted Brandy - the only liquor in our house (I bought it for making truffles). Now, some of you might be thinking - Brandy? That's over twice the alcohol of wine and it's completely different! and yes, you would be quite correct in assuming that I have little to no experience in the area of baking and alcohol substitutions...

Thankfully, just before adding a full cup of brandy to my Zabaglione, I realized the problem with the extra alcohol, so I halved the amount called for. However, I forgot to increase the amount of liquid added, and I forgot to add some extra sugar... Meh, I figured it would turn out anyway...

I don't have an espresso machine, and I didn't feel like dusting off our regular coffe machine for 3/4c of coffee, so I dunked 2 spoonfuls of coffe into a mug and let it sit for a while, before pouring through a coffee filter into another mug. I realize now it would have been much faster to just use the machine... meh..

Everything else worked out fine, except the springform pan I used was about twice the size I should have used, so the Mascarpone/Brandy-Zabaglione layer was too thin - it just barely covered the Ladyfingers. It was 3 in the morning at this point, so I didn't really care. I dusted over a light layer of cocao, covered the pan in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge.

Oh, I should mention that most recipe reviewers complain about Tiramisu being too runny. I admit I was thinking about that as I was dipping the Giant Ladyfingers into the coffee, so I made a point of being as quick as possible. Most reviewers also mention that Tiramisu tastes better after a couple days in the fridge, so I thought it might be a good idea to bring the dessert to the Bible Study on Thursday.

Roughly 12 hours later, I'm waiting for my pork roast to cook (2.5 hours), and I start thinking that perhaps an alcoholic dessert isn't the best thing to bring to a Bible study (I have no qualms with drinking, just drunkeness, but others see it as a stumbling block, best to avoid)... and what if the alcohol is really strong...

So... I decide the best thing to do is taste it, just to see.

I cut into the dessert half expecting to see a puddle of coffee in the bottom of the pan. Thankfully, the Ladyfingers had absorbed all of the liquid, and the creamy layer was rather thick (of course it was missing 1/2c of liquid, so I didn't expect it to be slopping around). So far, so good.

I took a spoonful - I could taste the Brandy before it hit my mouth :(

I'm not a heavy drinker - in fact, most people wouldn't even call me a light drinker, so I might be a little sensitive to the alcohol. It might have been OK if I had remembered to add a little more sugar, but as it was, it was far too "adult" for my tastes...

Things to do next time...

1. Buy Marsala.
2. Check Italian specialty shops for Mascarpone cheese (apparently it's softer than North American styles)
3. Don't be so quick when dipping the Ladyfingers (They were good, but perhaps not moist enough)

Other than that, I think it turned out fairly good for a first try - edible, not too watery and definitely not too sweet - Just not my style.

The only problem with experimenting on Tiramisu is the cost of the Mascarpone, eggs and alcohol. I've heard some people complain about the Ladyfingers being expensive - I guess I'm using *really* cheap ones...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Scarabaeidae in Ontario?

After many fruitless hours, I recently sent off this email to a local entomologist, specializing in Scarabaeidae:

Greetings Mr. Génier,

I understand that you are the Ottawa area expert in Dung Beetles. I wouldn't normally approach a complete stranger and ask him about excrement management, however, I saw a picture of you standing next to a rather peculiar piece of artwork at the London Zoo. I figured a man who could pose with a sculpture of frighteningly large beetles rolling a gargantuan ball of dung that could only have been produced by King Kong, or some hitherto undiscovered monolithic mammal, would have a sense of humour. He might, therefore, indulge my
naïveté in regards to Scarabaeidae and offer me a few words of advice.

To be blunt, I'm looking for shit-disturbers in Ontario. While I know of some politicians who might qualify, I believe I am looki
ng for those of the Scarabaeinae variety. Research of local dung beetles has proven rather difficult, however, as most searches net results on the African varieties studied by 3rd graders world-wide (no doubt giggling collectively at each mention of the word "dung"). Therefore, I would greatly appreciate any assistance you could give me in this area.

I am desperately seeking information on Ottawa area varieties of dung beetles, including habitat, lifecycle, and (if possible) how to make a sheep pasture more habitable, or their 'cuisine' more palatable, in the hopes of attracting a larger number of beetles (translating into better manure dispersal).

My primary interest is in alternative methods of parasitic infestation reduction in pasture-based small ruminants within South-Eastern Ontario. Rather than routinely treating chronically infected animals with chemical dewormers (
increasing the likelihood of creating resistant strains of parasites), my goal is to disperse the source -- the manure -- as quickly, efficiently, and beneficially as possible, thereby significantly reducing the animal's exposure in the first place. Theoretically, through the combined use of rotational stocking (letting each paddock rest a month between grazing, disrupting the parasite's lifecycle) and manure management by dung beetles, parasitic infestation can be drastically reduced. Occasional problems could then be dealt with on a case by case basis with herbal remedies, such as garlic extract.

The information you provide could have profound effects on the livestock industry as a whole, creating cleaner, safer and more holistically sound pastures world-wide. Your response could start a revolution!

Or, it could just make me very happy.

Eagerly awaiting your re

Elaine Prince

I sincerely hope he has a sense of humour ;)

Oh! I might have actually found a variety of Dung Beetle from Canada. I found it through an insect framing company (you know- the kind that packages butterflies into nice displays?)
- Onthophagus nuchicornis.

Typing in the above variety lead me to an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada website with a couple dozen links to various dung beetle varieties in Canada, including Aphodius prodromus, which apparently prefers horse, sheep and human dung to cattle. Aphodius vittatus apparently is a "generalist", having no preference. As an added bonus, it's found over all of southern Canada.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Rotational Stocking Calculations

In line with my interest in fencing costs, I've been looking for pasture layout plans and information on Rotational Stocking (also referred to as Rotational Grazing). I found a fabulous website run by Agronomy at Perdu University. It actually gives a formula using a grazing stick for determining how many animals a given pasture can support based on the forage per acre inch, grazing efficiency, animal weight, and intake. Once you get the hang of the following formula, you can check your skills using Perdu's Pasture & Forage Fun page ;)

(Total Forage/Acre) x (Acres) x (% Grazing Efficiency) _____________________________________________ = Days
(Animal Weight) x (Intake Rate in % of Body Wgt) x (# of Animals)

It's really quite simple, once you get used to the terminology.

Total forage per acre inch:
Each type of forage has a different dry-matter output, measured in pounds per acre inch. Basically, if you were to mow an inch off an acre of forage, the cutting would weigh within a certain range, depending on the type of forage. Bluegrass would have a higher weight range than Switchgrass. Now, this weight is also dependant upon the percentage of ground covered by the forage. Obviously, a nice dense field of Switchgrass would have a higher yield than a sparce field of Bluegrass. Cover percentage is mostly determined by sight and placed within three categories: under 75%, 75-90%, and above 90% cover. Use the Grazing Stick table from Perdu as reference. Once you find the proper range for the type and cover of your forage, multiply it by it's height (minus 4 inches to sustain). Switchgrass at 75-90% cover yields on average 250 lbs/acre inch. If it is 10" when you start grazing, and you must leave 4", that gives you 6" of feed. 250 Forage/Acre Inch x 6" = 1500 Total Forage/Acres. Got it?

Pretty self-explanatory...

Grazing Efficiency
From what I understand, the more paddocks within your pasture, the greater the grazing efficiency will be. Continuous Grazing has 40% efficiency, while seperating into 24+ Paddocks has 75% efficiency. High efficiency is good. Again, refer to the Grazing Stick chart.

Animal Weight
The average expected weight of your animals. I would treat all young as if they were adult size - they probably eat just as much since they are growing. If the weight difference between males and females is substantial, multiply the average weight of a gender by the percentage of that gender in your flock. If your 10 males weigh 140 lb on average, and your 40 females weigh only 110 lbs, then

(140 * 0.20) + (110 * 0.80) = 116 total average weight

Intake rate in percentage of total body weight
This is the amount of food your livestock will eat in relation to its own weight. Generally somewhere between 2-4%.

Number of Animals
This is the number of animals you wish to sustain on the given pasture/forage.

If you know how many pounds of forage you have available, combined with the efficiency of your paddock rotation, then you can figure out how long you can sustain a given number of animals based on their food intake. It really does make perfect sense ;)

Say we have 24 acres of Orchardgrass/Legume Mix with a decent but not prime cover, 12 inches tall, divided into 8 paddocks, and we're dealing with some lovely Shetland sheep of the smaller variety - mostly ewes and lambs with about 15% rams, averaging out to a generous estimate of 110 pounds each. Taking a look at the chart, or speaking with experienced farmers, we will find that they eat 3.5-4% of their body weight while grazing. I prefer caution, so let's take 4%. I think up here, the total number of days available for pasturing is 180. I could be too cautious, but that seems like a fair estimate.

(Total Forage/Acre) x (Acres) x (% Grazing Efficiency) _____________________________________________ = Days
(Animal Weight) x (Intake Rate in % of Body Wgt) x (# of Animals)

Pasture Height: 12" - 4" = 8"
Forage Type: Orchardgrass/Legume Mix
Percent Coverage: 75-90%
- Pounds of Forage/Acre Inch = 275
- - Total Pounds of Forage/Acre = 2200
Pasture Size: 24 acres
# Paddocks: 8
- Grazing Efficiency (based on # paddocks): 60%
Livestock Type: Sheep
Average Weight: 110 lbs
% Intake/Body Weight: 4%
Number of Days: 180
Number of Animals: ?

(2200 Total Forage/Acre) * (24 Acres) * (0.60 Grazing Efficiency) __________________________________________________ = # Animals
(110 lbs Animal Weight) * (0.04 Intake Rate/Body Wgt) * (180 Days)

2200 * 24 * 0.6
110 * 0.04 * 180

_____ =
40 sheep

That doesn't seem like a a great amount of sheep for 24x3 acre paddocks. Now, if you split the pasture into even more paddocks, thereby increasing your Grazing Efficiency, you should be able to fit more animals in the same area. A 24 acre pasture with 24 paddocks, each 1 acre, will have a grazing efficiency of 75%. If you redo the calculations using this figure, you get

2200 * 24 * 0.75
110 * 0.04 * 180

____ = 50 sheep

That seems like a better number to me, but still not that hot. Lets improve the yield of our forage to above 90% and see what that gives us

2600 * 24 * 0.75
110 * 0.04 * 180

____ = 59 sheep

Great! By increasing the number of paddocks and improving the forage cover, we've increased our flock by almost 50%. Wait - There's more!

The optimum grazing period for sheep is 3-5 days. Our sheep are currently taking 7.5 days to cut through 1 full acre of forage (180days/24 paddocks = 7.5). If we cut the paddocks in half, doubling their number to 48, our flock will have 3.75 days in each paddock, thereby hitting the "optimum grazing period".

So, now we have 48 paddocks, each 1/2 acre large. Thirty days after the flock has finished grazing the 1st pasture, they are onto the 10th paddock, but the forage in the first paddock has grown back to 12" and is prime for eating. We have 2 options - thresh it, or set another flock of 59 on it, and every 33.75 days thereafter. Since there are 48 paddocks, but a flock can only eat through 9, we'll need 5 more flocks of 59 to deal with the forage.

Total number of 110 lb sheep eating 4% of their body weight daily on 24 acres separated into 48 paddocks, using 12" Orchardgrass/Legume Mix at 90% coverage, with 5 cycles of 59 sheep = 295.

This of course depends highly upon the rate of regrowth of our forage. Slow-growing varieties might not be able to keep up every month, plus a drought could seriously affect our 90% cover, not to mention our sheep could be significantly larger due to the abundance of lovely fresh forage, and therefore start eating more... Or, perhaps you want to thresh the fields for winter sustenance - three cycles of 59 sheep, threshing in between each cycle. I haven't looked into winter feed costs yet, so I'm not too sure what the cost of feeding 295 sheep over the winter is.

I think I'd be more comfortable using the 75-90% cover calculations of 50 sheep/flock, for a total of 250 for 24 acres, or about 10 sheep/acre (which, incidently, is exactly what Maple Ridge Sheep Farm suggests for their Shetlands

Now you know how to calculate livestock/acre ;)

Just a thought - fencing

Hmm... ok, so if I were to completely surround my family's homestead in electric fence, how much would that cost?
Edit: Oops - forgot that you have to tighten, clamp and terminate at in-line brace posts every 2400'. I think you use copper lead out wires and copper split bolt clamps to continue the connection... The length of the homestead is 156' more than recommended, and I don't know how forgiving that number is, but its probably not good to exceed it in areas of heavy winter conditions. So, I had to tack on 8 more end post systems and a bit more copper wire

150 square acres
12.25 acres x 12.25 acres
2556' x 2556'
10224 perimeter = $16562.88 ($16767)
81792' (82800') wire
$542.29 Basic costs
inc 11 Ground Wires (3+1 every 1300')
Panther 3600 Energizer = approx $1600
3 Corner Posts = $582.87
10 End Posts = $5085.60 (2 + (2x4) end posts)
1 Gate$398.75
Probably a couple dozen Hill and Valley Posts, but I'll just ignore that for now

Subtotal = 22433.71 + Valley and Hill Posts
+20% shipping and tax/duties = $26920.45, possible bulk discount?

Hmm... that's really not that bad - to completely and securely fence in 150 acres for under 30k? Anyway, this is just theoretical for me - I'd never need to fence in the entire property. I just like figure stuff like that out... Yeah... I'm a wee bit off my rocker...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Fencing costs - itemized

I know this mustn't be very interesting, but I like to record all my research somewhere...

5' fence
8 strands of wire (4", 4", 4", 6", 8", 10", 10", 12")

$ CDN excluding shipping & tax/duties 17-27%
Guaranteed Costs
less than an acre = $522.79, greater than an acre = $564.79+
ElectroBraid = $1.62/foot
Corner Posts = $194.29
End Posts = $254.28
Line Posts = $11.12/30'
Valley Post = $32.29
Hill Post = $18.00
12' Gate = $398.75 (+ 2 end posts $508.56 = $907.31)

Tensioning Kit
1 acre = 24.50, >1 acre = $49.00
Ground Rods 3 x $17.50 = $52.50
+1 every 1300'
Digital Volt Meter $62.50
Copper Lead Out Wire 250' = $46.50
Copper Split Bolt Connectors 8 x $2 = $16
Cut Off Switch $11.50
Surge Protector $9.75
Lightening Arrestor $8.50 US
$9.92 CDN
Tap Sleeves 25/$6.00 US
25/$7.00 CDN
Tool Mule $41.50 US
$48.42 CDN
3 miles = $145, 5 miles = $189, 8 miles = $288
Fence Minder Kit $79.95
Webbing Black 50' = $9.25
required for corner and end posts

ElectroBraid = $1.62/foot

2 Copper Split Bolt Connectors 2 x $2.00 = $4.00
($239 + $4)/1200' x 8 strands

Line Posts = $11.12/30'

Line Post $6.10 US
$7.12 CDN
QuickClip 8 x $0.44 = $3.52 US
8 x $0.50 = $4.00 CDN
= $11.12/30'

Valley Post = $32.29

Dip Post $24.25 US
$28.29 CDN
QuickClip 8 x $0.44 = $3.52 US
8 x $0.50 = $4.00 CDN

Hill Post = $18.00

Ridge Post $12.00 US
$14.00 CDN
QuickClip 8 x $0.44 = $3.52 US
8 x $0.50 = $4.00 CDN

Corner Posts = $194.29

Corner Mule $136.00 US
$158.67 CDN
Roller Insulators 8 x $0.66 = $5.28
Horizontal Brace 2 x $13.00 US
$30.34 CDN
Webbing Black 8 strands

End Posts = $254.28

End Mule $101.oo US
$117.83 CND
Roller Insulators 8 x $0.66 = $5.28
Horizontal Brace $13.00 US
$15.17 CDN
Copper Split Bolt Connections 8 x $2 = $16
Webbing 8 strands

12' Gate = $398.75 (+ 2 end posts $508.56 = $907.31)

Gate $220.00 US
$256.70 CDN
Gate Bracket $17.75 US
$20.71 CDN
Gate Latch $19.00 US
$22.17 CDN
Gate Brace 2 x $42.50 US
$99.17 CDN
(End Posts 2 x $254.28 = $508.56)


For a 1 acre square pasture, 210' x 210', 840' perimeter
Guaranteed Costs less than 1 acre

ElectroBraid = $1.62/foot
$1360.80/6720' ($1458/7200')
Corner Posts = $194.29 x 3
End Posts = $254.28 x 2
Line Posts = $11.12/30'
Valley Post = $32.29
Hill Post = $18.00
12' Gate = $398.75 (+ 2 end posts $508.56 = $907.31)

Subtotal = $3640.65 ($3737.85, 480' leftover)
Approx Total with Shipping & Tax/Duties = $4368.78 ($4485.42, 480' leftover)

For a 4 acre square pasture, 420' x 420', 1680' perimeter
Guaranteed Costs greater than an acre

ElectroBraid = $1.62/foot x 1680'
$2721.60/13440' ($2916/14400')
Corner Posts = $194.29 x 3
End Posts = $254.28 x 2
Line Posts = $11.12/30' x 52
Valley Post = $32.29
Hill Post = $18.00
12' Gate = $398.75 (+ 2 end posts $508.56 = $907.31)

Subtotal = $5354.81 ($5549.21, 960' leftover)
Approx Total with Shipping & Tax/Duties = 6425.77 ($6659.05, 960' leftover)

I really love working with perimeters - twice the length for 400% area increase. But I really love working with this fencing system - 400% area increase for only 50% cost increase :) However, this isn't taking into account the valley and hill posts you'll undoubtedly need when deeling with the larger areas. Undulating lands could easily increase your costs by 10%.

So... what have we learned today? If you're going to spend the cash to get a 1 acre electric fence, and you think you might one day use 4 acres... you might as well cover the 4 acres ;)


Ok, I'm starting to get into the gritty details of operating a farm - mainly, keeping my livestock where I want them, and keeping the predators out. With wolves, coyotes and bears, I'm going to need a pretty serious fence.

I was reading about 6 foot no-climb fences with 1 foot buried, and thought there's no way I'd be able to afford fencing even an acre, let alone a decent sized pasture. I was starting to get discouraged, when I read an article by Maple Ridge Sheep Farm on Keeping the Sheep In and the Varmints Out. The Doanes use an 8-strand electric fence for controlling their Shetlands, and the coyotes. The process they described sounded like it would definitely do its job, but the aluminum wire they used was thin enough to break in case an animal got tangled in it. While this was a nice idea, it also meant a number of repair jobs, adding to the expense. Unfortunately, the Doanes calculated that their electric fence cost about the same as a woven fence once all the repairs and manhours were factored in.

I was loosing hope in ever finding an affordable, effective fence, but I thought I might as well Google 'Electric Livestock Fence'. The first site to pop up was this:

Electrobraid Electric Horse Fence, Safe Livestock Fencing
ElectroBraid is a safe and secure electric horse fence invented out of love for horses. Fence in domestic animals - fence out predators.

Well, that sounded pretty darn close to what I was looking for, but what about the price and how long will it last without needing repars?

On the front page it stated "It is strong and durable and a fraction of the cost of other electric fencing systems"

Well, I liked the sound of that! I ended up reading the entire site and ordered a free video ;) But it took a while before I built up the courage to actually calculate the cost of fencing an acre of land. Thankfully, their site not only had a detailed price list, but also had a detailed instructions explaining exactly what you'll need to order. Oh, did I mention it's a Canadian company from Nova Scotia? (yay!) all prices are in Canadian dollars, however an American price list is also available on the site.

Here's what I came up with for:

about a square acre of land, 210'x210' = 840' perimeter
5' fence
8 strands of wire (4", 4", 4", 6", 8", 10", 10", 12")
one gate
2 end posts
four corner posts
28 line posts (every 30' due to heavy snowfall; areas without severe winter weather can go every 50')
Edit: I'm looking into the Geotek fiberglass posts. They are more expensive than wood posts would be, however, I will not need all the insulators, and screws. I'll add onto the following post with a detailed breakdown of the cost using Geotek's posts.

Edit: Ok, I took a look at Geotek's website. The pricing was a little tricky - a document with older prices was still on the site, so wasn't impressed when I found their Jan 2005 price list. Thankfully, while the price of accessories had gone up, the rods I was interested in were lower. The difference for my little acre paddock was only $26.20. The total in was $3020.60 US, 3518.75 CDN (plus shipping & duties/taxes) including absolutely everything I could think of. I changed my mind and decided to go for a 5 ft 8-strand fence (4, 4, 4, 6, 8, 10, 10, 12). I basically took the 6 foot fence with small animal control and lopped off the top foot. The smaller integers at the foot of the fence will not only keep rabbits and raccoons out, but also keep lambs, chickens, crias and piglets in.

ElectroBraid™ Reels:

1. Multiply the length of your fence __840__ by the number of strands you wish to use __8__ and divide by the length of reel you will be purchasing __1200__ = __5.6__. This is the number of reels you will need.

ELECTROBRAID™ 1200 ft Reel - (White) 6 x $239 = $1434 CDN

ElectroBraid™ Roller Insulators for End, Corner and Vertical Changes in Direction:

2. Add the number of Corner posts __4__ and the number of End posts __2__ and multiply by the number of strands __8__ = __48__.

3. Count the number of Line posts with vertical changes in direction (hills, gullies, etc) and multiply by the number of strands = __0?__.

4. Add these two numbers together __48__ + __0?__=__48?__. This is the number of ElectroBraid™ Roller Insulators you will require.

Webbing (Black) 50 Feet $9.25 CDN (not necessary with Geotek Fiberglass posts)
For corners, ends and trees

ElectroBraid™ Roller Insulators - Black 48?/12 x $7.85 = $31.40 CDN

ElectroBraid™ Line Post Insulators for End and Corner Brace Posts:
I'm not too sure why this is here if you're supposed to use Rollers...

5. Multiply the number of End posts ____ by the number of strands ____ =____.

6. Multiply the number of Corner posts ____ by the number of strands ____ and multiply by two =____.

7. Add these two numbers together ____+____=____. This is the of ElectroBraid™ Line Post Insulators you will require for End and Corner Brace Posts.

ElectroBraid™ Heavy Duty Line Post Insulators - Black /25 x $9.65 = $0 CDN
For heavy winter conditions
Not necessary with Geotek Fiberglass Posts

Line Post Insulators:
Not necessary with Geotek Fiberglass Posts

8. Your choice of Line Post - wood, T-Bar, Fiberglass or steel - dictates your choice of Line Post Insulator. Count the number of Line posts __24__ and multiply by the number of strands __8__ =__192__. This is the number of Line Post Insulators you will need for Line Posts.

Depending on the type of Line Posts you plan to use, these may be the same or a
different insulator from the Line Post Insulator you plan to order for your Brace Posts
(see above).

ElectroBraid™ Heavy Duty Line Post Insulators - Black 192/25 x $9.65 = $77.2 CDN
For heavy winter conditions
Not necessary with Geotek Fiberglass Posts

Copper Lead-Out Wire:

9. Add the widths of all your gates together __8__ and multiply by the number of strands __8__ =__64__+ (6' x number of strands)=__112__.

10. Measure the distance from your Energizer to the nearest point on the fence=__25__.

11. Measure the distance from your Energizer to where your ground rods will be located = __25__.

12. Add these numbers together = __162__ + 20' for the distance between ground rods = __182__. This is the length of Lead-Out wire you will need.

Copper Lead-Out Wire 182/250 x $46.50 = $46.50 CDN

Copper Split-Bolt Connectors:

Copper Split-Bolts are used to terminate a strand of Braid™, to splice two strands together and for electrical connections.

13. Count the number of End posts __2__ and multiply by the number of strands __8__ = __16__.

14. Count the number of fence lines that exceed the reel size you purchased, multiply by the number of strands and multiply by two = __12__. (I figure I have 6 reels that will need to be connected)

15. Add one Split-Bolt for each electrical connection = __8__. (This is for connecting the energizer (4) and the ground wires (4) to their respective strand, as well as for the ground wires every 1300' running along the fence to the cold wire (0))

16. Add these three numbers together = __36__. This is the number of Split-Bolts you need.

Copper Split Bolt Connectors with Cable Ties 36/10 x $19.95 = $79.80 CDN


Select the proper Energizer from the chart = ElectroBraid 2.5 Joule (for up to 3 miles) $145.00 CDN

Ground Rods:

You will require 3 ground rods plus 1 every 1300' (more for large fields or poor soil conditions) = __3__.

Copper Clad Ground Rod, Clamp, 2 Ferrules, 1 Cable Tie 3 x $17.50 = $52.50 CDN

Tensioning Kit:

You will need at least one ElectroBraid™ Tensioning Kit to tighten the Braid™ (two for paddocks greater than 1 acre) = __1__.

ElectroBraid Tension Kit 1 x $24.50 = $24.50 CDN

Digital Volt Meter - PW 1 x $64.50 = $64.50 CDN
Required to test your fence voltage

Stainless Steel Screws for attaching Rollers & Insulators
240 Insulators x 2 each = 480/50 x $10.00 = $100.00 CDN (non-fiberglass posts)

Webbing (Black) 50' 2 x $9.25 = $18.50 CDN (fiberglass posts)
for corners, ends and trees

ElectroBraid™ Spring Handle Gate Kit 1 x $16.95 = $16.95 CDN
Includes 1 Roller Insulator, Webbing, 2 copper Split Bolts, 1 Gate andle, 1 Activator Plate and SS Screws

Cut Off Switch - On/Off Switch 1 x $11.50 = $11.50 CDN

Surge Protector 1 x $9.75 = $9.75 CDN
To protect energizer from 110V power surges

ElectroBraid™ Fence Warning Sign 12? x $1.00 = $12.00 CDN
Check local laws

ElectroBraid™ Fence Minder kit 1 x $79.95 = $79.95 CDN
with Test Probe, Wire and Siren

Lightening Arrestor

for under gates

End, Corner and Line Posts

Wood = 38 posts + gate
Fiberglass = 4 mule corners, 2 mule ends, 2 gate supports, 24 line posts, 192 QuickClips, gate, gate bracket, gate latch

5' Heavy Mule Corner 4 x $167 = $668.00 US
5' Heavy Mule End 2 x $106 = $212.00 US
5' Gate Brace 2 x $42.50 = $85.00 US
5' - 7/8" Line Posts 24 x $6.30 = $151.20 US
7/8" Quickclips 192/20 x $7.75 = $77.50 US
Gate 1 x $220.oo US
Gate Bracket 1 x $20.50 US
Gate Latch 1 x $19.00 US

Geotek Fiberglass Subtotal $1453.20 US = $1656.36 CDN + shipping and duties/tax

Subtotal Wood = 2185.55 CDN + posts
Shipping Wood (10% subtotal) = 218.56
GST Wood (7% on top of shipping?) = 168.29
Total Wood = 2572.40 CDN + Wood posts

Subtotal Fiberglass = $2028.35 CDN + posts
Shipping Fiberglass (10% subtotal) = 202.69 CDN
GST Fiberglass (7% on top of shipping?) = $156.07 CDN
Total Fiberglass= $2387.11 CDN + approx $1949.54 for Geotek Fiberglass posts

Approximate total $4336.65 CND for a 1 acre pasture.

To cover 4 square acres would require doubling the ElectroBraid, Line Posts, QuickClips, Warning Signs, another Tension Kit, adding Ground Wires and as many Copper Split-Bolt connectors as ElectroBraid reels. You'd probably also need to add a couple Roller Insulators and Dip/Ridge Posts for vertical changes in direction, since the chances of having perfectly flat pasture are decreased.

ElectroBraid can also be used for paddock divisions (within a secured pasture - used for rotational grazing). One wire at 3' will do, but for dry or frozen ground, a grounded wire is recommended 12" below the top wire. Geotech offers pretty cheap ($1.65 US) pre-clipped, step-in posts for this purpose.

I've checked out other brands, but they didn't seem to have the durability, ease of installation or cost effectiveness of the ElectroBraid system. Plus, they're Canadian, eh?

I'll post a little later with exact cost per line, end and corner post, for ease of calculation.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

And on his farm he had some....

I really doubt Old MacDonald would have ever had alpacas...

I've been looking into heritage/heirloom breeds of various livestock, planning my own little perfect working farm. I'd love to go the completely organic/free-range/humane route, cutting back on productivity in order to emphasize quality and good genetics. Here's what I have so far


I simply can't get these fuzzy little fibre-producers out of my head. If I ever get a farm going, Alpacas will definitely be featured. I might have to start off with something a little more orthodox, just to get my feet wet. People look at me like I'm crazy when I say I want to start an Alpaca farm... I may be a little off my rocker, but I don't need other people knowing that ;)

I think I'd like to start off with some brown Huacayas.


I'm not overly interested in raising sheep, but I find people are much more understanding if you say you want to raise sheep for their wool, rahter than Alpacas for their fibre. If I end up breeding sheep, I definitely won't be picking the usual Dorset, or Suffolk. No... I'd need a breed that stood out, a rare breed like Black Welsh Mountain, Jacob, Saoy Karukul. Maybe even Navajo Churro, Kerry Hill, Llanwenog, Teeswater, or Lincoln Longwool if I could get my hands on a breeding pair. Shetlands would be nice as well, although only rare in North America.

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of raising Shetlands. I was just reading about "rooing" which I think would be preferable to shearing, especially for handspinning.


Again, not big on the whole meat thing, but a breeding pair of Highlands or Galloways would be nice for my DH (I can't eat beef, so a calf would be a nice treat for him).


I could possibly raise some small pigs, not really interested at the moment.


I'll definitely need some draught horses to help out on the farm. I saw some promising Norsk Fjord Horses. They are simply beautiful. However, I've always wanted a giant Clydesdale, and I've heard they are becoming quite rare. This may be due in part to their expensive feed costs... Ohh - Irish Draughts are quite nice.


A couple Indian Runners to cut down on the bugs. I really don't think I could raise ducks for meat..


What farm doesn't have chickens? Of course I'd need free-range heritage chickens.. just haven't looked into it yet.

Hmmm - Scots Dumpy, Dorking, and Old English Pheasant Fowl look like good candidates


Hmmm... not too interested in goats.


Yes - I'll need a beehive... still ahven't looked into it yet.


Some nice Angoras would top off my list of fibre producing animals :)


I'm not too sure I'd raise Llamas for their fibre, but I'll definitely need a large male as a guard for the alpacas and sheep.


A large Pyranees or Komondor to help the Llama protect the herds.

I think that's it for now... I haven't gotten much further than sheep, so I'll probably update this list in a few days :)

Friday, January 06, 2006

So... Alpacas, eh?

Anyone wondering how my brain makes connections should find this train of thought

New Year's Eve, I spent at the Mainses' beautiful home (truly gorgeous), and in between sucking at Dance Dance Revolution, and gorging myself, I asked Jen to teach me how to spin wool. I had heard ages ago from my FIL that she knew how, and figured I could sucker her into teaching me instead of whooping our arses at the dancing game (she was really quite good).

Thankfully, Jen did have her own wheel (I wasn't even sure if she did), the friend she had lent it to recently returned it after 6 months, and she had a bunch of roving the size of my head which she generously sacrificed to my learning discovery :) Jen's an awesome teacher, so in short order, I was spinning fairly evenly. A couple hours later, I had gone through the roving, and decided to ply it.

Having only one bobbin, I wasn't able to do the regular 2-ply thing, so I did what any novice spinster would - I used a technique which I vaguely recalled reading about it on the internet, but had never seen in person - Navajo plying. Yeah...

I attached the yarn to the leader, tied a slip knot, and reached through the hole to make continuous "loose crochet chains", all the while spinning the new 3-ply and winding it onto the bobbin.

Yes, I am crazy - but it worked :)

I flipped out when Jen offered to let me borrow her wheel. I honestly couldn't contain my excitement - I fell in love with spinning that quickly. The next day, I found the green and orange roving leftover from my thrummed mittens and quickly spun and plyed it in the same manner as the first. Then came the horrifying realization that I was out of roving! What next? I knitted my "rustic" 3-ply into a rather thick 1x1 rib scarf. I think its far toobulky to actually use, even on size 15US needles, but I was able to see the finished results. I was amazed. I was stunned. I was thrilled to find myself holding a (short) scarf which I could have easily bought in a store. I considering frogging the entire thing and casting on half the stitches in order to double the length and make a great "First Spin" garment.

Yes, I'm oh-so-modest :)

So, here I am with no roving left (well, I have White Buffalo pucks, which I tried spinning, but it's just too scratchy - not at all like the silky wool from Jen, or the dyed roving from Fleece Artist), and I've promised DH that I wouldn't buy any more wool. What's a girl to do? Make her own spinning wheel of course! (It made more sense in my head than it does at the moment)

A book on the subject had finally come available at the local library, so I ran down to the Main branch and picked up Spinning Wheel Building and Restoration by Bud Kronenberg. I found a picture of modern upright wheel which appealed to me, (no plans of course) tweaked the design a bit, and then using graph paper cutouts, figured out how much wood I'd need.

I called up my Mum and asked if she wouldn't mind taking me to Home Depot to pick up the wood (I didn't think the bus driver would let me on with an 8 foot plank or two). She reluctantly agreed since she had some shopping to do at Ikea (Mmmm... Ikea).

An hour later, we're wandering though the Swedish store, when my eye spies the Lazy Susan on the wall. Having engrossed myself in spinning wheels for the last 48 hours, all I can see is the perfect ballbearing based hub mechanism thingy for the easier of the 2 wheels I have in my mind. All I have to do is carve a track around the edge of the top plate, unscrew the bottom bolt and attach it instead to the back support of the upright spinning wheel. Voila - instant wheel.

After we get yet more furniture for my brother who is hopefully moving out of my parent's house this month, we make our way to Home Depot on Baseline. They really need more staff floating around - it took longer than it should have to find the (very small) hardwood section at the back of the store. My Mum helped me pick out two straight and nicely coloured 1x8x8 planks of Poplar (an unpopular choice for classic spinning wheels, according to Bud, but half the price of Maple and Oak), and she even agreed to pay for it, so DH wouldn't see the cost of yet another one of my projects...

After we loaded the wood into the van, I took my Mum out for dinner at Red Lobster (I sort of forgot her birthday last month), where I pulled out Bud's book at tried to explain to her which changes I was planning on making to the one pictured. She was a wee bit concerned that I had bitten off more than I could chew - "That's something your Grandfather would have done", she said, "At least you can't say that you don't dream big."

My Grandfather, her Dad, was a highly skilled woodsmith. He was good friends with the owner of Lee Valley Tools. I believe to date, he and my brother are only people to have ever been featured on the cover of the Lee Valley catalogue. I was 4 or 5 at the time - I remember the men with bright lights in Grampa's workshop. My nose was a little bent out of shape that my brother got to be in the picture, and not me :(

Anyway, while we were eating our Garlic Shrimp, my Mum mentioned that if she were to go back to school, she'd take the Heritage Masonry program offered from Perth College. Back in the day, college was frowned upon, as if you weren't good enough for University. Now, graduates of the program are highly sought after, especially in the States, for restoration projects.

So... my Mum drops me off at home, and I immediately Google "perth heritage mason" or something to that effect, and up pops Algonquin's Perth campus. Imagine my delight when I discovered that not only did Perth offer a fantastic Masonry program, but also that they have a Heritage Carpentry program as well.

Forgive my immodesty, but I have always excelled in school projects which require woodworking. In grade 7, we had to use a scroll saw to make a simple name plate. I ended up making an elaborate thing that spun around on this wavy stand - it said "Peace" on one end and "Love" on the other - and I burned little flowers and vines into it, just to emphazise the point. In my University sculpture class, most students nailed together a few blocks of wood and called it modern art. I created a tri-sectioned privacy screen with a maple frame, held together by tension and raffia - no nails, screws or glues.

So, this carpentry program sounded like it was perfect for me. The problem is that I've already gone 4 years though Univerisity... I always knew that I would be going to University some day. When that day finally arived, I didn't even look at the programs offered by colleges. Now... *sigh*... I'm one semester shy of completing a degree I will never use, wishing I could start all over again. I wasn't made to write essays, I was made to work with my hands; to apply my knowledge physically, not just write about it abstractly.

Oh, the other problem is that it's in another city. Ummm... yeah. DH is the type of person who will never leave Ottawa, or at least, the big city. Perth does not appeal to him at all. I'd be moving out there alone.

So... I brought this up with DH, and he immediately dismissed it as one of my "fickle" ideas (He thinks I'm only interested in woodworking in order to make a spinning wheel, and that I'll drop it right after). So now I have to prove to him that I'm serious about woodworking. The only way I could think of doing that was by taking a course which wouldn't require moving 45 minutes away for. Algonquin's Furniture Technician program (Woodroffe campus) sounded interesting enough, and it was only 3 terms over 48 weeks, instead of 4 over 2 years.

While I was filling out the college application form, I figured I should double check if there were any other programs at other colleges I had overlooked. That's when I found the agriculture program at Guelph University, Kemptville Campus. Of course, that sparked my interest again in raising sheep, well, actually alpacas, but raising sheep is much easier to explain to someone that raising alpacas. It sounds too exotic and far fetched. I mean - who raises alpacas? But I've been interested in raising alpacas for a couple years now - even my DH will admit that I've been talking about it since the last time I was knitting (4 years ago). But now I know how to spin, so it makes even more sense to raise alpacas!

So now I'm looking at Alpacas farms with an eye for buying my own little herd, and then I realize I'll need land on which to raise my "sheep". One of the alpaca farms I was looking at was actually selling their farm to upgrade in another city. The price seemed really reasonable, not that I know anything about land prices, but it was still out of our price range (a half-acre vacant lot is out of our price range). When I started looking around for farms in Quebec, I suddenly remembered that my Dad grew up on a farm somewhere in La Belle Province! He still talks about it, and Gramma still owns the property.

I immediately called my parents to ask about the old farm. My Dad wasn't home, but my Mum told me that it was at least a hundred acres, and it was located somewhere near Shawville, but she wasn't exactly sure. I told her I was interested in using the land for alpaca farming - she said my "brain is going a mile a minute" - not too sure if that's a good thing, or a bad thing...

I called back an hour later and reached my Dad. He spent an hour on Google Maps trying to describe to where the farm was located. After a couple of false starts, he was finally able to point me in the right direction. The farm is rather brown in comparison to the neighbouring strips of green. Apparently, it's being rented out for cattle at the moment...

Anyway - that's about 100 acres cleared and 50 acres with forests. Imagine what I could do with even a small parcel of that land...

A large problem would be the native wildlife. The farm backs onto some pretty wild mountains - my Grandfather killed a bear, and there must be a fair number of wolves in the area. I'd have to fence off all the enclosures with 6" non-climb fencing - probably bury a good foot to prevent digging. I'd also need at least one Livestock Guard Dog, and a Guard Llama would be nice too. I wonder if I would have to learn how to use a gun? Maybe it's not as wild as I imagine it being...

The old barns and farmhouse have disintegrated, so I'd need to build some sort of shelter and feeding area for the animals, as well as find a usable well. A small cabin and outhouse would be fine, although a septic bed would be a wise investment ;)

Of course, if we're going to live on a farm, then we might as well make the most of it, and raise a few cows for milk, chickens for eggs and, heck, a team of horses while we're at it... I think bees would be good too - honey and wax for the candles we're going to have to use since I doubt electric wires have been lead out to the property. I wonder if solar panels are cheap enough now... Could I make enough money off of alpaca fleece, or would I have to be involved in breeding and selling? Hmmm... most likely, in which case I'll need a truck and trailer for transporting the alpacas to shows. I'd have to plant a vegetable garden for my family, and hay for the livestock. Could I bring myself to raise cattle, hogs or chickens for meat? Ummm... maybe, maybe not.

Anyway... this is how my mind works. It all started with an innocent offer to lend me a spinning wheel...