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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Build Your Own Butter Churn

Build Your Own Butter Churn

by Ken Gies of Fort Plain, NY

Fresh butter melting on hot homemade bread… Isn’t that the homesteader’s dream? For me it is a satisfying reality. It started with a few goats and a rusty cream separator and blossomed into fresh milk and butter. Elbow grease cleaned up the separator and provided hand shaken butter for a long time. I simply couldn’t justify the expense of a new butter churn.

Before I describe building a churn, I want to tell how I handle our milk. I have heard many complaints about off-flavored milk from goats. So here are my personal don’ts. First, keep goats out of strong tasting plants, especially the cabbage family! Next, don’t let the buck near the milking does except for a quick breeding. Somehow, billy-smell gets into the milk almost instantaneously. Then, filter it quickly. Finally, cool it quickly. I have a shelf reserved in the freezer for the evening milk. I chill the milk in a shallow stainless steel pan until bedtime and then transfer it to the refrigerator. In the morning, I pour the warm morning milk over the partly frozen evening milk, thawing it and cooling the other immediately. Then I run it all through the separator. I get more cream if the milk is not full of ice crystals.

Build Your Own Butter Churn

My filter is as cheap as I am. I take a six inch, non-gauze milk filter and fold it in half. Then I fold one corner up about a third and make a cone. I set this into a funnel and hold it with my thumb as I pour the milk into the freezer pan. The pictures show the steps. Usually I find just a few hairs in the filter. It is nice to use in case there is mastitis in the herd. The little curds show up, alerting me to check carefully. This has not happened in a long time and I hope that it doesn’t happen any time soon.

Build Your Own Butter Churn

The temperature of the cream and the ripening process vary with the time of year and the feed eaten by the dairy animals. I disregard all advice and just take the cold cream out of the fridge and mix several days’ worth together. I fill the churn, plug it in and go away.

Build Your Own Butter Churn

At some point, the churn will become very quiet as the butter forms and floats to the top of the buttermilk. I let it churn for another ten or fifteen minutes and then place it into the fridge to firm up more.

Build Your Own Butter Churn

After a few hours, my wife works the butter under cold water, salts it and makes pats. She freezes the excess.

Build Your Own Butter Churn

A cheap two-gallon stock pot from the local chain store got me started in churn building. It was thin stainless steel and cost less than ten bucks. I carted it home wondering what I might find in my junk pile to run the thing. I found an old squirrel cage fan and pulled the little motor to test it. It was a bit sticky, so I added a few drops of automatic transmission fluid to the bearings and away it whizzed. It is rated at 3000 rpm and only 1/100 hp! I figure that if it could turn a six-inch fan, it could turn a two-inch impeller.

Build Your Own Butter Churn

The motor shaft was 1/4 inch and I just happened to have a drill bit extension that fit right. If you have an odd sized shaft, try a similar sized piece of cold rolled steel rod and a long roll pin with an inside diameter close to the shaft size. If the shaft is too large for the roll pin, swell the ends with a tapered punch. If it is too small, lay the roll pin on its side on an anvil and tap the sides to close the split side and decrease the diameter.

Build Your Own Butter Churn

I cut off one end of the extension so it was an inch shorter than the churn and welded a 1/8” by 1/2” by 2” flat iron onto the bottom for the dasher. I bent it into a propeller shape with a vise and adjustable wrench. I noted which way the motor turned and bent the leading edges up so that it would force the milk down. The milk moves out to the edge, up the outside and back down the center in a small whirlpool. This circulation seems to be important. I suspect that a slower rpm motor would need a longer impeller to agitate the cream well.

Build Your Own Butter Churn

I attached the motor directly to the lid of the stock pot after drilling holes for the motor shaft and two flange bolts. I am not that precise so I just eyeballed the center hole and located the flange holes with a marker. My motor has its own switch, but a hard-wired motor can be plugged or unplugged as needed. My mother’s monstrosity was over two feet tall with a 1/8 hp motor and no switch. It churned three gallons at a time and thundered around on the floor as it worked. It had a 4 inch impeller and ran at 1750 rpm. This little comparison shows the latitude that would-be churn builders have in choosing parts for the homebuilt machine.

Build Your Own Butter Churn

I am no engineer, just a copycat. I couldn’t find a good latch to imitate. Instead, I have used a large elastic band for several years without failure or replacement. I stretch it over the top of the churn and under the bottom of the pot. I set the contraption on a towel so it doesn’t rumble and let it spin my butter out.

Build Your Own Butter Churn

This system has worked well for me for several years now. I think it could work for you too. However, if the thought of building a churn still daunts you, go ahead and shake. Efficiency will increase markedly if you imagine that the jar is the neck of your least favorite politician… Oh Look! Butter!

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 2

How do you learn the true status of that farm with the “for sale” sign? Here are some important pieces of information for you to learn about a given selling farm. The answers will most probably tell you how serious the seller is.

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.

English Sheaf Knots

English Sheaf Knots

Long ago when grain was handled mostly by hand, the crop was cut slightly green so seed did not shatter or shake loose too easily. That crop was then gathered into ‘bundles’ or ‘sheafs’ and tied sometimes using a handful of the same grain for the cording. These sheafs were then gathered together, heads up, and leaned upon one another to form drying shocks inviting warm breezes to pass through. In old England, the field workers took great pride in their work and distinctive sheaf knots were designed and employed.

Portrait of a Garden

Portrait of a Garden

As the seasons slip by at a centuries-old Dutch estate, an 85-year-old pruning master and the owner work on cultivating crops in the kitchen garden. To do this successfully requires a degree of obsessiveness, the old man explains in this calm, observational documentary. The pruning master still works every day. It would be easier if he were only 60 and young.

Such a One Horse Outfit

Such a One Horse Outfit

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One day my stepfather brought over a magazine he had recently subscribed to. It was called Small Farmer’s Journal published by a guy named Lynn Miller. That issue had a short story about an old man that used a single small mule to garden and skid firewood with. I was totally fascinated with the prospect of having a horse and him earning his keep. It sorta seemed like having your cake and eating it too.

Mayfield Farm

Mayfield Farm, New South Wales, Australia

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Mayfield Farm is a small family owned and operated mixed farm situated at 1150 m above sea level on the eastern edge of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales, Australia. Siblings, Sandra and Ian Bannerman, purchased the 350 acre property in October, 2013, and have converted it from a conventionally operated farm to one that is run on organic principles. Additional workers on the farm include Janette, Ian’s wife, and Jessica, Ian’s daughter.

LittleField Notes Hay

LittleField Notes: Hay

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Farming never fails to dish up one lesson in humility after another. Despite having all the weather knowledge the information-age has to offer, farmers will still lose hay to the rain, apple blossoms to frost, winter wheat to drought… If we are slow to learn humility in Nature’s presence we can be sure that another lesson is never far off.

The Brabants Farm

The Brabants’ Farm

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The Brabants’ Farm is a multi purpose farming operation whose main goal is to promote “horsefarming.” Our philosophy is to support the transformation of regional conventional agriculture and forestry into a sustainable, socially responsible, and less petroleum dependent based agriculture, by utilizing animal drawn technology (“horsefarming”), and by meeting key challenges in 21st century small scale agriculture and forestry in Colombia and throughout South America.

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

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Three different parcels of land were committed for a series of tests to directly compare the impact of tractors and horses on the land. One side of each parcel was worked only with horses and the other only with tractors. There were measurable differences between each side of the worked areas; the land’s capacity to hold water and greater aeration were up to 45cm higher in areas worked by horses as opposed to tractors.

Cultivating Questions A Diversity of Cropping Systems

Cultivating Questions: A Diversity of Cropping Systems

As a matter of convenience, we plant all of our field vegetables in widely spaced single rows so we can cultivate the crops with one setup on the riding cultivator. Row cropping makes sense for us because we are more limited by labor than land and we don’t use irrigation for the field vegetables. As for the economics of planting produce in work horse friendly single rows, revenue is comparable to many multiple row tractor systems.

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Amidst all of the possibility that is out there, all of the options and uncertainties, it helps to remember that there is also a strong community in the draft-farming world. There are a great many like-minded yet still diverse people working with draft horses and ready to share their experiences. What will serve us well within this great variety of farms and farmers is to keep in touch, to learn from one another’s good ideas and mistakes and to keep on farming with draft power.

Week in the Life of D Acres

Week in the Life of D Acres

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D Acres of New Hampshire in Dorchester, a permaculture farm, sustainability center, and non-profit educational organization, is a bit of a challenge to describe. Join us for this week-in-the-life tour, a little of everything that really did unfold in this manner. Extraordinary, perhaps, only in that these few November days were entirely ordinary.

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

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Holistic Management was developed by Allan Savory who was a wildlife and ranch biologist in Africa who was concerned that the advice he could give farmers didn’t work in the real environment and even when the advice was good it wouldn’t get implemented. He developed a program which helps farms create a clear Holistic Goal and then use the farms resources to move toward the goal while being ecologically sustainable.

On-Farm Meat Processing

The demand for fresh, local meat products – with no taint of industrial process – is absolutely staggering.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

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Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

LittleField Notes Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

LittleField Notes: Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

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To my great delight a sizable portion of the general eating public has over the past few years decided to begin to care a great deal about where their food comes from. This is good for small farmers. It bodes well for the future of the planet and leaves me hopeful. People seem to be taking Wendell Berry’s words to heart that “eating is an agricultural act;” that with every forkful we are participating in the act of farming.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Cultivating Questions: A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Market gardening became so much more relaxing for us and the horses after developing a Horsedrawn Guidance System. Instead of constantly steering the horses while trying to lay out straight rows or cultivate the vegetables, we could put the team on autopilot and focus our whole attention on these precision tasks. The guidance system has been so effective that we have trusted visiting chefs to cultivate the lettuce we planned on harvesting for them a few weeks later.

A Year of Contract Grazing

A Year of Contract Grazing

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Contract grazing involves the use of livestock to control specific undesirable plants, primarily for ecological restoration and wildfire prevention purposes. The landowners we worked for saw grazing as an ecologically friendly alternative to mowing, mechanical brush removal, and herbicide application.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT