Audhumbla’s first calf

4th April

Audhumbla had her first calf at the end of February. She went into labour in the evening and I checked on her every half hour after that. I was nervous that something would go wrong, so once I saw the feet coming out I sat in the corner and watched her. Just to make sure. When an hour passed and the calf hadn’t come any further, I started to worry and went back to the house. I did some quick research and realised the calf was the wrong way round. The way to tell is that the feet should be pointing downwards. But they weren’t, they were pointing upwards.

I woke Dan, and we prepared to pull the calf out. I was scared, for the cow and the calf. I washed my arms up to the elbows and felt inside, to check the position. (First time for everything!) I felt the legs and yep, it was the back legs that were coming out first. The only thing to do was to pull it out, while she was contracting. For me it was an almost overwhelming experience, but Dan was calm and focused as ever. The calf was out in under 10 minutes. It was a beautiful, slimy heifer. I thought that once the calf was out, that was our job done. But I was wrong.

Audhumbla reacted very strangely to her baby. As soon as she saw it she started bellowing desperately, as if horrified by the helpless creature that just came out of her. She seemed extremely upset and was pushing the calf away violently. She was so crazy that we had to tie her while we rubbed the calf dry with some old towels. It was so sad to see her rejecting the calf, and it was so helpless! We tried many times to leave them together, just to see if she would come round, but every time she pushed the calf hard with her head and bellowed and roared at the poor thing. In the end we helped the calf to suckle and then took her to the house, as she was starting to shiver. We wrapped her up in woolen blankets to keep her warm, and I slept downstairs with her to keep the fire going. In the morning I was woken by stumbling and clattering noises. She was standing up and exploring the kitchen!


The first day I carried her to the barn and had to tie Audhumbla so the little one could suckle. Then I milked Audhumbla, and took the calf back to the house. After that, when the calf was stronger, we kept her in a small enclosure next to her mother, where she was safe but they could see each other. We started to let Audhumbla outside again during the day, and her daughter could jump about in the large pen while mama was gone. It was wonderful to see her healthy and springing about, especially since our first calf (Hornfagr’s first calf) was so weak. Audhumbla did calm down in those first few days, but still made strange noises whenever she saw the calf! One day I decided to give her another chance, so I opened the door to the little pen and let her stick her head in to see the calf. She did a lot of sniffing and mooing and eventually licking, so I moved away and just stayed with them a bit, and realised finally she had accepted her baby! She still got a bit angry when the calf jumped around, but she wasn’t violent anymore and we could leave them together.

She certainly wasn’t the best mother in the world, and behaved completely normally when she was separated from the calf. She didn’t seem to mind at all when we took the calf away after a week, to slaughter it. It was of corse a terrible thing to have to do, but that’s how it is if we want to have milk. And we got a good deal of meat too! We loved and cared for that baby as fully as we could, and when the time came, she died well. Now we have half a years worth of schnitzel and we boiled stock from the bones. The cats got the head, feet, lungs and tail. (They weren’t so keen on the latter). I made a rather good heart and kidney pie, and the liver is waiting in the freezer for inspiration.

Now Audhumbla gives us around 12 liters of milk per day, so it’s been alot of work processing it all! I’ve started making hard cheese again, and have finally succeeded in making brunost! We’re getting crazy amounts of butter too, and I’ve made cream cheese, cottage cheese and two norwegian cheeses Pultost and Gamalost. For more about my most recent cheese-making adventures, read my next post!


Winter, Wheat and Wool

29th January 2016

We are already a month into the new year, though it still feels like the beginning. With the arrival of our first woofer, the cycle begins again and we find ourselves looking towards another eleven months of hard work, new people and general chaos! Already, the skies are noticably brighter, and the haystack is nearing it’s halfway point. According to old norse tradition, midwinter was on the 24th of january, on the full moon. We celebrated with homemade pinnekjøtt (salted lamb ribs) and beer!

We have finally started threshing , and it’s been really exciting to see how the wheat turned out! It seems to be quite easy to thresh, and the husk comes away easily from the grain, leaving us with grain that’s husk free and ready to use! (After we winnow it and dry it that is.) The grain has been patiently waiting in the shed since we harvested it last autumn. It is stacked in the form of sheaves, which are just small bundles of grain, tied with a handful of straw. We have a simple hand-cranked threshing machine, which is essentially a large rotating drum inside a sturdy wooden box. The drum has metal spikes which pull the grain from the straw, when you turn the handle. One person stands and holds a sheaf into the machine and moves it around, to help loosen the grain, while the other person turns the handle. The grain comes out the other end, as does the straw when its done. After a few sheaves we beat the straw a bit with an old-school flail to remove any grain still in there, then remove the empty straw. We also have a hand cranked cleaning machine which removes remaining straw and other bits and pieces. When you turn the handle, there are two mesh trays that shake, which allow grain to fall through and roll down a fine mesh into a box. The larger pieces of straw and whole ears end up on the other side, and chaff is blown away by the fan, which is also powered by the handle. Dust falls out the bottom through the fine mesh. There is also a place at the side where grain ends up that was not threshed properly, i.e still attached to the ear. This we will feed to the animals.


a wheat sheaf


the cleaning machine


the finished product!

After the grain is threshed, we still have to dry it for storage. We have a dedicated drying room, where we also dry alot of fruit in the summer. We have a big rack filled with mesh trays, where we spread out the grain. When it’s full we light a fire in the stove, and keep it burning until the grain is dry enough.

We pimped our small hand mill, so now it’s bike powered! This means that we can now mill grain in larger quantities, and faster. Though it’s still one hell of a work-out! I already milled some flour from our own wheat, and baked the first 100% homegrown bread! And yes, it was extremely good. It has so much more flavour than shop bought flour, and from what I’ve read, should be alot healthier. Firstly, because it’s homegrown (needless to say organic), secondly because our wheat is an old variety (dalalandhvete) which means it’s more nutritious, and thirdly because it’s freshly milled! Apparently there are some nutrients which degrade within hours of milling, so the fresher the better! So in general the wheat was a success, though the yield was low. We are hoping that this was due to the bad weather, and that we will get a better yield in future years. We certainly haven’t grown a year’s suppy, but i think i will just mix some homegrown flour into every dough. The current estimate is that we have about 36 kilos, but i will give you the figures when we know for sure.

February 6th

I have also started spinning the wool from last spring! My first project is to spin sock yarn, and knit some extremely hard wearing socks for Dan. He certainly needs it. Working all day in the forest is not something socks stand up to for very long! To make them extra strong I’m going to knit them very large and them felt them down to the right size- the felting really strengthens it, and will make them warmer too.

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As I have hinted, Dan is working in the forest making fence posts for the new pasture. We are in the process of clearing land, so that in the future the cows can get everything they need from grazing and we don’t have to feed them hay in the summer. It’s a big project, but  progress is being made. (Thanks to one, undeniably dedicated farmer.)



Snøen har kommet

21 November 2015

It was an unusually warm and dry autumn, fortunately for us. (And our woofers, that they did not have to endure another freezing wet muddy hell of an autumn. (Viera, Bart, Sigurd, Janek- eternally grateful.) The frost came late this year, and suddenly there was snow. So now we inhabit this winter wonderland once again. These cold, sparkling months, that carry us slowly towards spring, are comforting in their consistency.  The animals have moved to their winter quarters, the comfort of the barn, where they slowly munch their way through a mountain of hay. This is how one horse, two cows and six sheep wile away their time.

13th December

Ramson (the ram) has been reunited with his ladies, after some time in solitary confinement. When we released him he made deep belching noises and ran over to the ewes, practically tripping over his own feet. They all gathered round him- it was a beautiful reunion until he started chasing them around with his tounge hanging out- that rather spoiled the romantic atmosphere. Hornfagr is still giving us milk- around 5 liters a day which is more than enough for us, and im starting to experiment with cheese again. Now I have perfected pultost and I have the luxury of excess cream, so I’m trying out a few different cream cheeses.

Im really looking forward to when Audhumbla calves so that we will have enough milk to make hard cheese and brunost. Even with the tiny amounts of milk we are getting from Hornfagr, we manage to make far too much cheese and butter and it’s started piling up! We have even started using whole milk in the porridge. We get about 1.5 kilos of butter a week. Sometimes I also make ghee, which is excellent for cooking. But I can make enough in one week to last several months- so basically I just throw some butter in everything i cook. Hey, it’s winter.

We found out that in Iceland they used to preserve large blocks of butter in sour whey, which naturally contains lactic acid, a well known preservative. You can also preserve cooked meat and vegetables in this way, and we have already done it- we cooked the lambs heads and preserved them for the cats. They loved it! We could also preserve it in salt, as was done in Norway in the past, but I am not too keen on using masses of salt, mainly because of the question of what we do with it afterwards! (With the salted lamb for example we end up with about 30 litres of brine!)

On the egg front, the chickens have beat their previous personal best (which i believe was 18 in a day) with 24 eggs! My god thats about two eggs per hour! Yes, we have an over-abundance of eggs now. There’s only so much scrambled egg you can eat in one day.

We’ve already done a bit of threshing, but we’ve been held back by injuries. (Dont worry, we still have all our limbs. But Dan impaled himself on a branch, and I rammed a nail into my hand!) We have threshed all the trysil barley, which we will use for sowing next year. We are hoping to thresh some wheat too, so we will have some REALLY homemade bread soon!


Hornfagr out for a morning stroll

26 December

Im afraid I have to revoke my previous comment about the winter being “comforting in it’s consistency”. So far the winter has been nothing but uncomfortably inconsistent! It’s been far too warm, melting and dripping and slushing, then cold and dangerously icy. It’s very strange to see any sign of bare ground at christmas, but this year I keep seeing weeds poking out of the snow, and across the valley, the top half of the hill is practically bare, and there are even green fields!  Normally we would be knee deep in snow by now, instead we find ourselves hoping that it will come soon. The good thing is that it will be easier to do forestry work, and we don’t have to worry about the roofs! (At least for a while.) I’ve been told that we won’t necessarily get less snow, it will probably just all come at once…

The darkest day of the year has passed, and a now new cycle begins. So we find ourselves looking to the coming year and what needs to be done. Dan will carry on with his big forestry project- clearing land and making fence posts for a new pasture,  Next year we will really be pressed for grazing with Audhumbla milking too.

I still hope to fix a few more windows before spring, help with the firewood, and hopefully do some spinning and sewing!





Autumn 2015

20th October

We had our first frost about a week ago, and suddenly everything looks very different. Leaves are dropping swiftly, and those sunflowers that were just opening now hang their heads. Autumn strikes quickly but not without mercy. We were gifted several dry, crystal clear days and sparkling nights. The warmth from the sun was just enough to lift the frosted dew from the grains, still standing in the field. With the help of our new horse Haukjon, we managed to bring in the barley, wheat and oats just before the weather turned. The peas which we grew with the oats (ringeriksert and jærert) had been hanging on racks to dry, and we got that in too.


From the garden we have harvested all the carrots which are now tucked away in wooden boxes in the cellar, along with the other root vegetables. We have brought all the onions into the kitchen to cure, as it’s far too cold to do that outside now. I’ve put them in wire baskets with the leaves hanging out, so they have plenty of air circulation. They seem to be drying really well. I’ve dug up all the leeks and moved them to the cellar, with their roots in just enough soil to keep them alive. They were smaller than I would have liked, but definately an improvement on last year. I’ve also planted some witloof chicory in there too. I’m hoping it will produce blanched leaves to give us something fresh during the winter. I sowed the seeds in early summer, and let them grow until after the first frost. Then I just dug them up and trimmed the leaves and planted them in the cellar. The kale seed has been brought in to dry, it was a great success! I tried chard too, and it flowered and grew and flowered and grew taller than me! But not a single seed. I think there must have been a problem with pollination, though i can’t figure out what. I decided to re-plant most of the garlic I grew this year. It actually filled an entire bed. Next year we will have an absolute abundance! (Fingers crossed). I’ve also planted tree onions, just for fun really because they’re so crazy! and wild garlic (ramsløk). Not long ago we were lucky enough to get some elk bones, from Dan’s uncle to make stock with. We sawed them up into smaller pieces (some of them were huge!) and boiled it up in an enormous iron pot. We kept it cooking for a whole day, and the next day we removed the bones and boiled it down to concentrate it.  When it cools you get a layer of fat on the top, which we use for cooking, and the stock underneath is like jelly. I cut it into cubes and freeze it. I don’t think we have enough for a whole year, but at least we don’t have to buy it for a while!


Dark Times

As the days grow dark and cold, the aspen, birch and rowan trees slowly withdraw the energy from their leaves, in an act of surrender, taking it down into the ground to await the long winter. The spruces, however, stand strong, like an army before battle. Way above, flocks of geese fly in formation, heading for the sun.


13th October

Like the trees, we too are preparing for the winter. Everything must be gathered, everything must be stored. Like a living being, the farm draws all energy to itself, into the heart, to keep it going over the cold months ahead. Vegetables have been harvested and stashed beneath the house. Firewood is steadly arriving in the farmyard, to be stacked in the woodshed. The grain is still waiting to be tucked inside the barn. The animals reluctantly nibble the now fading grass. The sheep come and go, bells ringing, busily seeking anything green. The chickens, they cluck nervously to each other in the barn, for they have known fear. One morning, when I was making breakfast, two woofers came to me with worried faces. “There are dead chickens.” We went to take a look and walked into the chicken house to find chickens strewn about the floor. The survivors shuffled on their perches, too scared to come down. Judging by the feathers everywhere, there had obviously been a struggle. Several of the dead chickens were missing their head, and of one, only the skin remained. One was still alive, she had clearly been attacked but wasn’t in a critical state. We did a quick count- 5..6..7…more than 10 dead. We discussed the possibilities- Fox? maybe. Badger? probably. Lynx? Surely not. After breakfast we moved the survivors down into the outdoor pen with the older hens, and collected the dead. One was missing. We counted our losses, and went about our daily tasks, comforted that at least now the chickens were safe. How wrong we were. The following day three hens were found dead in the coop. The predator had come during the day. It had obviously tried to drag it’s kill away, but couldn’t get over the fence, so had made a small hole (in a metal wire fence) and tried to drag one of the chickens through. It had failed, so just ate as much as it could, leaving the maimed carcass wedged into the hole. I was baffled, as I was sure a fox could have easily jumped the fence with a chicken in it’s mouth. Confused, shocked, and worried for the safety of the rest, we herded them into the small chicken house (a different one) where we were sure they’re be safe. There was no way a fox or a badger could get in there. The following morning, we were greeted with horror once again. There were fifteen dead chickens inside the house. It was only then we began to understand what we were dealing with. It certainly wasn’t a fox, or a badger. It was something smaller, but no less of a killer. I tried to imagine a predator smaller than a fox, that could have squeezed through the small gap in the door. My mental picture slowly formed into some kind of weasel-like creature. We moved to the remaining chickens to the safety of their winter quarters, which is inside the old log-built barn. We did some research on small predators and the final suspects were stoat or pine-marten. The following morning I was up early to milk Hornfagr, and heard a strange noise outside. I rushed out and listened, and quickly realised it was a screaming chicken. The noise was coming from the stream, so I ran into the darkness, towards the sound. Getting closer, I crept through the trees looking for the source of the noise. Finally I saw it. Next to the stream, up in a tree, a savage fight was taking place. The light I had was faint, but I could see a white chicken struggling with a small, dark, almost snake-like animal. Surprisingly strong for it’s size, it was dragging the screaming chicken down the tree, with the poor bird thrashing for it’s life. Shocked, slightly scared, and not sure whether or not this was a dream, I ran back to the house to get Dan. When we returned, the beast and it’s prey were gone. Fortunately, that was the last chicken to be taken.  I’m still not completely sure what it was that I saw that morning, but we think it was a pine marten. There is still one hen that is roaming free, and we can’t catch her- she has developed impressive flying abilities, and runs away if she even sees us. The chicken that survived the first attack didn’t walk for several days but has now recovered. We will keep the chickens indoors for the rest of the year now. It’s a shame that they can’t roam free anymore but it’s just too risky. We hope that by spring the predator will have moved on…


End of summer 2015

22 August 2015

Finally the summer came! We’ve had amazing weather the past week or so, nothing but clear skies- perfect for haymaking. (Yes we are STILL haymaking!) It was strange replay of last year, when we ended up with only one woofer and things slowed down considerably. And of corse the mower broke down. Everyday! Without fail. It’s amazing. So we also ended up scything quite alot, which was fun but not quite as productive. But in the last week something incredible happened- the sun came out, and the mower got fixed (twice). So Dan managed to cut almost all the grass that was left, and we are drying it on the ground, something that’s only possible in VERY good weather. We turn it a few times until it is quite dry, then rake it into windrows, and turn those with a rake a couple of times a day, until it’s completely dry. Then we haul it up the the barn. Or rather, we load it onto the wagon, and Freyfaxi hauls up. In perfect weather, this takes two to three days, depending on the type of grass, thickness etc… There is rain forecast for monday, so we are working frantically to get everything into the barn.

It’s been such a busy summer, especially now we are milking. We milk twice a day and get about 3.5 liters from each milking. This is enough to meet our needs for fresh milk, by far, and I have also started making a simple white cheese, made from sour milk. Its really practical because we are getting so little milk, that I can just sour all the excess milk from each milking, and then save up for a few days until i have enough to make cheese. I sour the cream too and make butter when i have about 4 liters. We are just about meeting our butter needs, with five people here. I have also started experimenting with another kind of norwegian cheese called pultost. It’s also made from sour milk, but is fermented for a few days during which time it takes on a very particular flavour, and smell. Needless to say, you either love it or you hate it. My first attempt was a complete failure, as it didn’t even ferment, it just went mouldy. The second attempt was also a complete failure, but it did ferment, and it stank like hell, but it didn’t taste good. The chickens love it though!! Coming soon..attempt three.

27th August

We have a new horse! His name is Haukjon and he’s a fjording, just like Freyfaxi. Infact, if you didn’t know, you would probably think it was the same horse. He’s also strangely similar in character- quite indifferent to people unless they have food, and may yet rival Freyfaxi in stubbornness. He’s younger by eight years, so hes experienced but not so old that we need to replace him soon. We are both looking forward to working with him soon, getting to know him and to enjoy having some youthful energy on the farm! Freyfaxi is not only stubborn but old, and it’s really starting to show. This summer he helped us bring in all the hay, but that is light work compared to what we need to do this autmun and winter.

12th September

The last month has flown by, and suddenly it’s Autumn again. I dont even know how to begin…

We finally finished haymaking around the end of august, so better than last year. We managed to cut the whole field in the end and only a little bit got ruined due to rain. I dont think we have as much as last year, but hopefully it’s enough to see us through.

Everything is late this year, we only started picking the currants in september, and some of them still aren’t ripe! We’ve managed to collect masses of wild blueberries though which is SO good, as last year we just didn’t have time. I’ve been sending the woofers out to scour the hill, and we are drying tonnes of berries in our drying room.

We slaughtered most of our roosters recently- we had far too many, as we hatched alot of chicks in the spring, now they are pretty much fully grown so it was time for the freezer! We are going to keep the hens for eggs. Unlike last year we skinned most of them, as it’s faster and less hassle than plucking them. I’ve become quite adept at gutting chickens, i think we did about 16 in one day!

28th September

Today Hornfagr was inseminated, so if it works she should calve at the end of June. Audhumbla will have her first calf in February, then we will have enough milk to make exciting things like hard cheese and brunost, as well as by-products like ricotta!

We are about midway through the grain harvest. The barley has all been cut and put up to dry. We did about half of the wheat field today, so we should finish that tomorrow, and then start on the oats-peas combo! I can’t believe how late it is this year! last year we started cutting at the end of August, and the barley was golden. Now the barley is still quite green, but we had to cut it- we are hoping there is still enough energy in the stems to ripen the grain. We’ve had such a cold and wet summer, and it’s really delayed our crops. But it’s most critical with the grains, because they also need to dry before we can bring them in, and they shouldn’t freeze. It’s already down to around five degrees celcius at night, so we are expecting our first frost very soon.


Our old horse Freyfaxi has gone to a new home! We gave him away. The new owner will use him for some easy riding, and take good care of him. We are so glad that he can have a retirement, after all the hard work he’s done for us. I tried to thank him before he left, but i don’t think he understood. That’s the sad thing.

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We picked apples last week at a nearby farm. The owners let us pick as much as we want every year, which is wonderful! We have dried everything so far, and are hoping to pick more when the grain harvest is finished.

On the cheese front, I’ve succeeded in making pultost! Well it wasn’t exactly pultost, but it was much more like it than anything else i’ve made, and it got eaten so that’s always a good sign! It was a little dry because i squeezed it too much, but it tasted good. When i succeed properly I will explain how to make it. It’s good because it has a similar flavour to hard cheese, but is easier to make and only takes a few days to mature. So for now it’s a really good solution to not really having enough milk to make hard cheese and the problem of maturing time- i could make hard cheese, but then we would still have to wait 3 months before we could eat it! I also made quark successfully today! All i did it hang up some sour milk in a cheesecloth in the morning and it was ready for lunch. We have a perpetual sour milk culture, so it’s always slightly different, but today the sour milk was perfect for quark- it had already decided to become cheese- there were firm curds floating in the whey, and i just tasted it and thought- this wants to be quark. So it’s wonderful when the culture is good, but sometimes it goes extremely slimy and then it doesn’t want to be cheese at all. It’s all about the balance of bacteria in the milk.


In other news, I grew romanesco!!! There weren’t very many, but they grew well, so ill try to scale it up next year..





A birth and a death

23rd July

This year I have really come to appreciate the norwegian method of making hay. (For a proper description see last year’s post Making hay the Norwegian way. )We’ve hardly had two days without rain since we started almost two weeks ago. If we had been drying it on the ground, it would have been ruined by now, but since we have hung it up on racks it is protected from both rain and sun, and actually manages to dry, even though it has rained quite alot. It is only really the very surface layer that gets wet, and dries up again very quickly once the weather improves. So instead of sitting around waiting for the sun, we have been making hay every day, and have cut about one third of the field already. The only problem is we haven’t been able to bring any of the hay in yet, so we are starting to run short of poles and wire. All we need is two days without rain!


Our first calf was born on tuesday. Hornfagr gave birth in the pasture, with Audhumbla as midwife and Ramson as the doctor. It was a healthy little heiffer, the same colour as her mother. She didn’t manage to suckle, and it didn’t help that Hornfagr kept turning around! We had to tie her to a tree and help the calf to drink. She seemed very weak but perked up alot after having some milk. Unfortunately, she never managed to drink by herself, and we had to milk hornfagr and feed her with a bottle. The harsh truth is, we decided to kill her the following day. We planned on keeping her for two days, so she could drink the colostrum (the first milk which contains alot of antibodies and protein) but since she wasn’t suckling at all, we thought we should end it sooner rather than later. It’s an awful, horrific thing to have to do, and the horror hit me hard. It hit me so hard I started to question the basis of my whole existence. All I could think was – why are we doing this? What right do we have to choose who will live and who will die? What is the meaning of life if we have to kill to live? Where is the justice in killing a newborn calf? I think that was what really got to me- that it had only just been born! It’s killing a baby! And yet this is the foundation of dairy production. I have eaten dairy my whole life, and known how it is produced. But now I have come face to face with the reality. It is unbelievably sad. The thing that makes what we are doing different from conventional dairy production, is that they normally wouldn’t kill the calf straight away, but they do separate it from the mother within two days of the birth. Female calves are then usually reared to become dairy cows, and the males are reared for meat. Since this is our first cow, we couldn’t afford to keep the calf any longer, because then we wouldn’t get very much milk- and if we’re not using her milk then we are using milk from a factory farm. During my brief ethical crisis I considered going vegan. The thing is I would love to be vegan! BUT to have an interesting and varied diet you have to eat imported food- think lentils, soy, most nuts and seeds, avocadoes, rice. And don’t get me started on the environmental and social impacts of imported foods. To be a self-sufficient vegan (in Norway) is next to impossible. There might be three months of the year when I would get a load of fresh veggies, and the other nine months I would be eating root vegetables and sourkraut! I would love to be proven wrong about this, but somehow, I don’t see it happening. But back to the matter at hand- the calf is dead. I couldn’t bear to be a part of it so I hid in the house. Hornfagr was calling alot today. Poor woman. It’s sad but we have to eat something!

On the bright side…wheat is growing on this soil, for probably the first time ever; we have radishes; we are going to get our first plums this year; beautiful flowers seem to love it here; the sheep are happy.

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