Welcome to Painted Hand Farm

Painted Hand Farm is a 20 acre Civil War era farm located in Cumberland county, Pennsylvania. We raise meat goats, veal calves, turkeys and organic vegetables using humane and sustainable agricultural practices.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Pair of Presents from Peaches

Our Christmas presents didn't only appear under our tree this year, but were also left in the barn. Peaches, one of our original does (and also our most prolific) dropped a set of twins--buck on the left and doe on the right. Ralph has been sick so he didn't go along to the family gathering at my brother's over in Perry County. No sooner had we sat down to our holiday dinner when the cell phone rang with the good news. By the time we got home later in the afternoon, the kids were clean, dry and had bellies full of colostrum.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Pair of Pumpkins for Cinderella

Cinderella blessed us with a pair of twins today--a buck and a doe. Two down, one to go. Let's hope that Clara chooses to kid while the weather is still warmer than when the first babies came.

I just couldn't wait until Christmas

Call me worse than a little kid, but I just couldn't wait until Tuesday to break into my Christmas present this year. You see, Santa brought a Gem Dandy Butter Churn for me. Until now, I had been using both my Kitchen Aid mixer and Cuisinart--one made a mess and the other did a lousy job. Neither did more than a quart of cream at a time. So when the jugs of cream began building up in the fridge, I couldn't bear the thought of doing nine batches of butter when I could do one.
The first archaeological evidence of butter making dates from 600 AD with the dasher and barrel type churn. In the 1800's, mechanical churns began to emerge. Electrical motors were added in the mid 1900's. There are plenty of smaller Gem Dandy churns--both manual and electric--on eBay and in antique stores.

Butter is a finicky thing. Cream won't turn to butter until it is slightly acidic and approximately 50 degrees. If it's too cold or too warm, it just froths. I add an aromatic culture to the cream prior to bringing to room temperature to help increase acidity and add flavor.
Butter & real buttermilk.

The butter needs to be rinsed to remove all of the buttermilk or it will go rancid faster. There is still plenty of liquid left in the butter so I work it in smaller batches folding it over on itself in order to remove the buttermilk while rinsing under cold water. 2 1/4 gallons of cream yielded about a pound and a half of butter and 3 quarts of buttermilk.
In addition to the churn, I also got a set of German butter molds--the small one has a flower, the medium one has grapes and the large one has a chick.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


This is up close & personal of my first batch of butter made from Emma's milk. Prior to churning, I let the milk sour for 36 hours in a crock to develop a little more flavor. Stay tuned for a step-by-step pictorial of future butter-making sessions. I'm still working out the kinks, but thanks to my dear friends (and awesome wood workers) over in Perry County, Doug & Jim, I'm working with a pair of hand-made wooden butter paddles.

After I finished the butter, I wanted to have freshly baked bread to go along with the butter, but when my second batch of bread in a week failed, I knew I had some stale yeast. Time for a trip to the Country Pantry.

Monday, December 17, 2007

As Predicted

Yes, just as I though. One of our senior does always waits until the temperature is sub-freezing to drop her kids on the ground, usually around four in the morning, too. This time was no exception. Found a pair of bucks in the barn this morning and they've already discovered the warming barrels.
It's supposed to be even colder tonight so what are the chances one (or both) of the other wide bodies in the barn will choose to kid tonight? Anyone want to place bets?

Sunday, December 16, 2007


It's been 52 days since Emma calved. That's 104 milkings by hand and let me tell you, it takes a while to build up the stamina to milk the whole way through without resting. Granted, cows don't come on milking like gangbusters right out of the chute and my cow only has two working teats, but as of yesterday, her daily average output has been at 25 pounds a day...that's a cup over three gallons-- one and three-quarters in the morning and one and a half in the afternoon.

Our hands are amazing pieces of engineering , requiring numerous joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles to functions. From the tips of my fingers to where the subscapularis attaches to the bone, I have become distinctly aware of each and every moving part.

I've longed for nothing more than to walk out to the parlor, flip on the vacuum pump and attach a vintage surge milker to my cow, get clean beautiful full-fat Jersey milk from which cultured butter will be hand-crafted. From there, it's anybody's guess...melted down over bread fresh from the oven, holidays cookies, pound cake, on potatoes...the possibilities are endless...but I'm getting ahead of myself.
A number of events have unfolded over the last two months that have been most discouraging at times, but we reached a new milestone at Friday's evening milking which offered a new sense of accomplishment. After a complete restoration of the vacuum pump and the surge milker's pulsator unit as well as several deliveries from Haby's Dairy Supply, we hooked everything up and it worked. It was the first milking in 52 days that I didn't get stepped on, kicked, crapped on, peed on or a combination of all of the above.
With a closed milking system, we can now use the milk for our own consumption as there is no cow hair, hay or manure that ends up in the bucket either from the regular hand-milking action or when Emma scores a point in the put-the-foot-in-the-bucket game (which we quickly squelched with a handy figure-eight pair of hobbles I still had from my back-country packing days).
Emma's calf, we call her Gray, has a few weeks to go until weaning so she takes a gallon a day. Until now, we've been giving the rest to our fat, dumb & happy bull calves, but with the advent of the fully-functional milking system, they've been cut back to a rich skimmed milk because I'm taking what's above the creamline from now on.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Ice Castle

Walking out the front door of the house this morning was hazardous to our health as you can see from the build-up of ice--yes, that's all ice. Those stepping stones are slicker than a freshly Zamboni'd skating rink. Everyone is snug in their barns, huts and shelters. Even Andy finally gave in and took shelter.

As much as I love to hang laundry on the line and and not waste energy, it will be a while until the clothes go back out on the line.

You can see how thickly the ice has built up on the Dogwood tree.
And just what do the humans do when it's so nasty outside to the point school is even canceled for the day? Why, they curl up with the critters and take a nap!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wide-Bodies in the Barn

There are three extremely pregnant does in the barn, udders full and ready to pop. Of course, the weatherman is calling for temperatures to drop this weekend with a low in th high teen Sunday night. My vote is they'll go then. Carlisle, the goat with the mouthful of hay, is notorious for kidding in the middle of the night in sub-freezing temperatures and always twins or triplets, too. At least she knows the routine. The barn is well bedded, the day-curtain installed on the door and the kid-warming barrels are ready to be plugged in. Meanwhile, the rest of the herd--both open yearlings and does not kidding until mid to late February--are in the common herd for easier feeding during the winter months.

Bucks & Ducks!
That's Red Hot & Ripped and his two personal attendants--a pair of Muscovy Mallard drakes. The ducks like to 'massage' the bucks with their bills and the goats seem to enjoy it. Weird. Rip is quite enamored with the ladies next door but won't get conjugal visitation until after he comes home from the PA Farm Show and does his penance in quarantine. Here are the rest of the bucks, many which are destined for local Eid celebrations later this month.
Peek-A-Boo CalfAs Jill up in New Hampshire would say..."somebody's cooking!"...meaning everyone around here is well-fed.
From her good side, Emma still looks like a normal cow. We joked with Jessica that she could still show her as long as she only let the judge see her from this profile. Despite lacking half her udder, she continues to pump out 22-26 pounds of milk a day. At that rate, my hands are getting stronger (and sore) so we hooked up the surge bucket (the one for the goats with only two inflations) yesterday, turned it on and NOTHING. No being used in a while, the mud wasps had clogged the pulsator. So it will be a few more days until the rebuild kit arrives along with a new vacuum regulator.

Andy, Andy, Andy. Yesterday, the vet checked him out and he's about 15 years old. We had his one snotty nostril cultured so we can effectively treat it. It hasn't negatively affected his health, but stinky green boogers in Jessica's hair each time she handles him won't last for long.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The First Snow of the Season

The snow arrived on the heels of our first really cold snap. Although it was only a few inches, it started on the morning I had a dentist appointment nearly 40 miles away. Equally disappointing was the fact that my studded snow tires were in the back of the truck with plans to stop by the tire shop on the way home and have them installed along with a new set for the front. So I slid precariously down the road hoping not to hit anything.
The 'Cash Crop'. These meaty boys are going to make for some tasty Eid celebrations.

Andy is settling in to the routine of the farm. "Hey, let's get out the sleigh!" Jess took him out for a ride the other day. It was so heart-warming to see them both amble down the road together. The ol' boy had a spring in his step as if to say, "Look at me now."
Emma's udder is healing nicely since the mass that once was her front quarter fell off. Major yuck! The hind quarter on the bad side is toast for this freshening as well, but yesterday she yielded 26 pounds of milk (3 1/4 gallons) out of half an udder. Because we used Penicillin to get rid of the infection, we're still not drinking the milk. The withdraw time on the bottle says 48 hours, but I'm going to give it a week. I'm really looking forward to having homemade butter for baking Christmas cookies.
Despite her huge udder, Emma still kicks up her heels and gets frisky in the snow.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

It Figures

I’m probably breaking all sorts of copyright laws by posting this article from December issue of Gourmet Magazine's article written by Barry Eastabrook about Kobe beef. While I normally post happenings on the farm, I wanted to share this article, along with my comments.


Politics of the Plate
Raising the Steaks
By Barry Eastabrook

You have probably heard all the stories about the lush life that results in tender, buttery-rich Kobe beef. Just be glad you haven’t seen it.

I first tasted Kobe beef at the Kobe Club, a sleep midtown Manhattan temple to the legendary steak. Overhead, 2,000 samurai swords hung, business ends downward, from the ceiling, while black-clad staff almost seemed to float through the darkness like shadows. Just after Jude Law and Michael Caine sat down a couple of tables over, a waiter materialized to my left and, with a flourish, presented me with a sizzling ten-ounce rib eye. There was a tiny paper Japanese flag jutting from a toothpick that had been jabbed into the $175 entrée.

I had put a morsel in my mouth, and my surroundings became unimportant. A thin, salty sear on the outside crackled and then released a warm gush of what seemed like beefy, buttery pudding, as rich as foie gras. With that one bite, I understood why Kobe beef has become the signature dish of the decade, with sales tripling during the past five years, not only at urban trendsetters but also with virtually every self-respecting steak house in the country and even at ambitious mid-range grills, where Kobe burgers are the new luncheon item du jour.

As the meat melted in my mouth, I marveled. The night before, I’d grilled a grass-finished skirt steak. How could two cuts of beef be so utterly different, the one pale and pink requiring neither knife or teeth, the other from an animal that had spent its life grazing on pasture as a cow is supposed to do—tangy, chewy, and bloody?

Like many people, I am familiar with Kobe lore: These supremely pampered bovines pass their days in almost Zen-like bliss, getting regular massages and subsisting on all the grain they can eat, washed down with cold Kirin beer. “Imagine a life so completely free of stress, with as much tender-loving-care you could ever want” is how the website of an American importer of Kobe beef puts it. “Sounds too good to be true?”

That was an interesting question, and I wondered why I’d never thought to ask myself. Why the massages? Whey the beer? Was this science or mystical malarkey?

Getting to see Kobe beef on the hoof is anything but easy. Raymond Blanc, co-owner of the Michelin two-start Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, outside Oxford, England, is one of the few Western chefs to have visited a Japanese Kobe farm. Blanc’s knowledge of meat production has roots back in the 1950’s in rural Besancon, France. “I have a deep understand of country life and of feeding livestock,” he said, pausing to sample a dish brought into his office by a sous-chef and issue orders for corrections. “On our farms, you have the kitchen on the one side, and you just open the door and there’s the stable.”

While touring Japan in 1993, Blanc visited several major cities. As soon as he arrived in Kobe, he asked to see a beef farm. His request brought a surprisingly cool response from his hitherto accommodating Japanese hosts. “Yes, yes, yes,” they said, but it never happened. So Blanc organized his own trip to the countryside—and was shocked by what he saw.

“These animals were kept in some kind of crate, so there could be very little movement. They were very dirty from their own manure—and I know a dirty cow from a clean cow. It was disgusting, such a contradiction from what I’d read.”

Blanc’s observations were confirmed for me by knowledgeable experts. David Blackmore, and Australian cattle rancher who has visited Japanese farms and agricultural centers a dozen times over the four decades he’s been in the business, raises an internationally renowned herd of 2,000 full-blood Wagyu (pronounced “wah-gyu” or “way-gyu”) cattle north of Melbourne. Wagyu, he explained, is the breed from which Kobe meat comes, but the meat can only properly be called Kobe if it comes from a pure strain of Wagyu raised in the Hyogo prefecture, which includes the city of Kobe.

Traditional Japanese producers, Blackmore said, raise their 1,600-pound cattle in highly confined areas. “From the time they are a week old until they are three and a half years old these steers are commonly kept in a lean-to behind someone’s house,” said Blackmore, “where they bored and go off their feed. Their gut stops working. The best way to start their gut working again is to give them a bottle of beer.”

The steers have been lying in their own manure,” he continued. “The farmers are proud of their cattle, and the first thing they do is grab a bit of straw and rub the manure off. That could be seen as being massaged. Wagyu also get a lot of joint swelling. I can imagine that the farmers would be massaging joints so they could get the animals off to market.”

Charles Gaskins, a professor of animal science and a Wagyu expert at Washington State University—he’s also one of the directors of the American Wagyu Association—puts it somewhat less diplomatically. “The steers go so big and heavy, they get arthritic,” he said. “It’s a matter of keeping the animal going until they are ready to be harvested.”

So much for images of plump cattle grazing contently in seas of waving grass, attended by devoted servants who massage them and pour them beer. (And where is all that pasture to begin with, given that Japan is so short of land?) It’s hard not to draw a parallel to mass-produced veal calves—the main difference being that a veal calf’s misery is over in five or six months, whereas Kobe cattle endure these conditions for three years. Japanese farmers, of course, don’t see it this way. Attempts to reach an official with Japan’s Kobe association failed. However, Kengo Kuba, an importer of Japanese meats into the United States, has spent time on farms in that country. He insists that the animals are well treated, “like family.” The beer and the massage, he contends, relax the animals and make their meat more tender.

“My impression is that the farmers think this individual treatment is actually a good thing for the animal,’ says Dr. Michael Appleby, animal welfare advisor at the World Society for the Protection of Animals. “But cattle are herd animals—social animals—that require certain amount o exercise and freedom of movement for their physical and emotional health.”

Nature—in the form of genetics—rather than nurture plays the most important role in the ineffable tenderness of the famous beef. Because Buddhist and Shinto tenets, beef was not consumed in Japan until the Meiji Restoration, the reign that began in 1868 and signified a turning toward the West. Before then, Japanese cattle were draft animals, raise for strength and endurance, and this probably led to the development of the Wagyu’s signature trait—vast stores of intramuscular fat that could be called upon for bursts of energy and that also resulted in a heavily marbled meat.

Blackmore’s Wagyu, the Wagyu raised in the United States, lead lives that are strikingly different from those in Japan. For one thing, his cows are allowed to raise their own calves for ten month on open pasture. After the calves are weaned, they remain on pasture for six more months before they go into open-sided barns for up to 600 days to slowly gain weight on a blend of grains. As for the qualit5y of this more humanely raised meat, Blackmore lists Thomas Keller, of the French Laundry and Per Se, among his regular American customers.

That confinement isn’t necessary to produce the holy grail of beef is clear when I visit a working Wagyu cattle farm owned by Henry Schmidek, a former professor of neurosurgery who has retired to 130 acres in Vermont. A herd of about 50 graze at the bottom of a field. Schmidek cups his hands, trilling, “Here, here, here,” and the squat, black animals trot clumsily toward us. For centuries their progenitors were bred as workmates for humans, he notes, and today’s Wagyu are docile, even-tempered animals.

Like almost all American Wagyu, Schmideks’ cattle not full-bloods. They were originally the result of impregnating Black Angus cows with Wagyu semen, resulting in a 50-50 cross; now he breeds each new generation to full-bloods, so the percentage of Wagyu continues to increase in his herd. On average, the meat costs less than half of what you’d pay for Japanese Kobe, but it still gets ratings that exceeded the USDA’s top grade of “Prime,” which has a greater amount of marbling than cuts graded “Choice” and “Select”.

“American Wagyu is more appropriate to the eating style we have here,” said Shane Lindsay, the owner of Brand Advantage, a wholesaler of Wagyu and other meats. “You’re really not going to a want big slab of Kobe slapped on your plate.” And, it turns out, you’re not likely to get one, no matter how stratospheric the price or what the menu claims. Very little, if any, real Kobe reaches the U.S. According to Lindsay, none of the slaughterhouses permitted to export to this country is in Hyogo prefecture. The high-ticket meat often marketed here as Kobe probably comes from Wagyu cattle raised in other parts of Japan. But Lindsay, who lived in Japan for four years, says the difference is imperceptible. “They are the same breed of cattle raised in the same way.”

The evening I sampled Japanese Kobe, I also tucked into a slice of Wagyu from the United States, garnished with, yes, a tiny paper facsimile of the Stars and Stripes. It had the same, over-the-top beefy flavor but lacked the melt-in-your-mouth sensuality and tenderness of Kobe. On the other hand, I could have polished off a nice, thick American Wagyu steak without a richness overdose. For my money, it was the better bargain. And anyway, after seeing Schmidek’s cattle moving freely across that pasture, Prime will do just fine, thanks. I’ve lost my taste for beef raised in a crate, Kobe or not Kobe.