The cacti are flowering, the blackberry bush is budding out, and there's a baby peach (I believe) on the tree. This year, I'm growing heirloom tomatoes and herbs — and that's it, so far. I've set out a couple of containers — one with a fig tree and ...

Here’s What’s Happening This Spring

The cacti are flowering, the blackberry bush is budding out, and there’s a baby peach (I believe) on the tree. This year, I’m growing heirloom tomatoes and herbs — and that’s it, so far. I’ve set out a couple of containers — one with a fig tree and another with native flowering plants, and they seem to be doing quite well. There’s not much else to report about from the garden — I just haven’t been spending the time on it this year.


Meanwhile, I finally got a definitive answer on the identity of that mysterious tree. But, unfortunately, what I discovered was that it’s considered an invasive species. It’s a Bradford Pear, a sub-species of the Callery Pear, or Pyrus calleryana. Oh, well… I’ll enjoy it as long as it lasts, I suppose.

The post Here’s What’s Happening This Spring appeared first on Free Range.


Recipe: Cinnamon Coffee Cake Chocolate Chip Muffins

It’s been a busy time at the homestead, with preparations for Christmas, ongoing volunteer work, kids’ activities and much much more (including my full-time job), but I always love an excuse to bake. This time, it was for my eldest son’s school holiday party, taking place today.

My son requested something cinnamon-y, while my husband requested chocolate chips (which he went out and bought so… fair enough), so I dug through my latest favorite baking cookbook — Duff Bakes. I wasn’t familiar with the author’s work (though I had heard of the Ace of Cakes Food Network show), but picked this up when the ebook form was on sale at Amazon. Since then, I’ve tried a couple of recipes and they have both been big hits with the family. No wonder his baked goods are so popular. Duh. (Last on the planet to figure this out, I know.)

While there wasn’t a cinnamon-y muffin recipe — which is what I had signed up to bring — there was a cinnamon coffee cake recipe, and it explained how to change up the recipe (really just cooking time) for cupcakes. It didn’t include chocolate chips, though, so I just made one batch without chocolate chips and then added them into the batter before spooning it out into the second muffin tin.

So, now, without further ado…

Cinnamon Coffee Cake Chocolate Chip Muffins

based on a recipe by Duff Goldberg

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: 12 muffins

Cooking spray
2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons orange flower water
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups creme fraiche
4 extra large eggs
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
10 oz chocolate chips
For the Streusel:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 stick butter, softened
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Tiny pinch of ground cloves
1 cup all-purpose flour


You can make the streusel ahead of time if you’d like. Just mix all of the ingredients together and use a spoon (or your hands, or a pastry cutter) to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it’s like a crumbly powder.

Preheat the oven to 350. Line the muffin pan with liners or grease with cooking spray.

With a hand or stand mixer, cream the butter, 1 cup of granulated sugar and the brown sugar. Add the vanilla and orange flower water and beat for 30 more seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the baking powder, salt and flour. Gradually add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture, then half the cream fraiche and 2 of the eggs. Then the rest of the flour and then the rest of the creme fraiche and eggs.

Mix until combined.

If you’re going to add the chocolate chips now’s the time. Gently fold them into the batter. We used dark chocolate morsels and they were a great fit.

Fill each muffin container halfway with batter, spooning it in.

In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, the cinnamon and 1/4 cup water. Using a plastic knife or chopstick, cut a zig-zag pattern in the batter, then pour the cinnamon mixture on top. Spoon in the rest of the batter to cover.

Sprinkle the streusel on top and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Muffins are done when a toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the muffin comes out dry.

The post Recipe: Cinnamon Coffee Cake Chocolate Chip Muffins appeared first on Free Range.


Bringing Our Baby Goats Home

dulcie-in-crateAfter two frustrating delays, we were afraid to even believe we’d ever get our baby goats. But it’s been a whirlwind week full of lots of bleating and, finally, first-hand experience.

We had to drive 1 1/2 hours on the dreaded Interstate to meet the breeder in the parking lot of a farm and ranch store. Of course, we were running late, as I was trying to squeeze too much in and attended our property owners’ association’s annual members meeting — where I planned to advocate for laying hens in keeping with my big campaign. I had to duck out before it was finished (who knew it would go 2 hours+?), handing off my survey print-outs and post-it notes to an ally.

Turning to the matter at hand, I drove near the quite high speed limit the whole way, fingers gripping the steering wheel as I managed the ever-changing lanes being shaped by construction crews. To give you a sense of this experience, keep in mind that the reduced speed limit in the frequent construction sections was 60 mph. All along the way, I glanced in the rear-view mirror regularly, constantly fearful that the dog kennels we’d strapped in would fly off and cause a multi-car collision.

When we finally arrived and found the truck carrying our precious cargo, the transition was swift, as the breeder and her family members seemed eager to be on their way — understandable since we were running late, after all. And there we were — responsible for two new baby goats, which turned out to be much smaller than I’d expected. The feeling was not unlike leaving the hospital with a new baby in a car seat, where you halfway want to ask the nurses if they’re certain they want to let you leave with this tiny creature — because you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.


We relaxed much more on the way home and Google Maps even helped me find a much more pleasant route home, which got us off the dreaded Interstate much more quickly.

Still feeling like we had no clue, my youngest son and I wrangled the little beasts into their newly-constructed pen. At first, they were super fearful, taking shelter inside their little dog house and refusing to come out. But before long they were showing their true nature, jumping on top and checking out their new surroundings.


More to come, of course, in the coming days and weeks as we all settle in.

The post Bringing Our Baby Goats Home appeared first on Free Range.


Getting our Goat(s)

Maybe it goes without saying that I was thrilled when the breeder reached out to me and said she thought she’d identified a doeling that would be good for our situation — our situation being that we were looking for a “family milker,” as it’s called in the parlance.

She sent pictures and we fell in love with this little girl — one of quadruplets — and we determined to take her brother, as a wether, as well (a wether being a “fixed” male). We came up with names, and we prepared to welcome them into the Caird Creek Wildlife Sanctuary and Farm.


The day before we were planning to set off to pick them up (about a 3-hour drive each way), I got a message from the breeder: “Pamela, I have some very bad news….”

Turns out as she was getting the little doe ready for us, she noticed two extra teats — nothing that will likely cause her any problems in her life, but enough of an issue that she shouldn’t be bred. A responsible breeder will stop that genetic anomaly in its tracks. Thankfully, this just means our former-goat-to-be and her brother will be sent live with the breeder’s grandparents, who take on the “special cases” like this and, we were assured, they would be “thrilled to have her.” But what about us?

Thankfully, this just means our former-goat-to-be and her brother will be sent live with the breeder’s grandparents, who take on the “special cases” like this and, we were assured, they would be “thrilled to have her.” But what about us?

Decisions, decisions

We could either get a refund of our deposit, take the other two kids in the quadruplet set, or… a different option became a possibility. There was a “flat out dynamite” Mini LaMancha doe kid, whose mother produces a gallon of milk a day, that needed a milking home. A miniature dairy goat is basically a cross between a standard dairy goat (LaMancha, Nubian, Alpine, etc.) and a Nigerian Dwarf, with the goal of creating a high-productivity milker that didn’t eat as much, didn’t take up as much space, and wasn’t as hard to handle as a full-sized goat. I hadn’t really looked into them much, but, with this opportunity, I started to do some research.

After much discussion, a lot of research and plenty of questions, we decided to go that route — taking both the doe kid and her brother as a wether. The Mini LaManchas, or MiniManchas or MMs, are generally a bit larger than Nigerian Dwarfs, but they’re still small enough to fit into the large dog house we purchased. I’m told they can be bred earlier (at a year, rather than a year and a half) than NDs, and the increased level of milk production would be very nice. Plus, there’s a possibility that they could be bred year-round like NDs — whereas standard dairy breeds are seasonal breeders.

Plus, we’ve already found a “boyfriend” for her, for when the time comes. She’ll be able to go back to where she grew up and spend some romance time with an unrelated MM buck.

The Mini-LaMancha

We obviously don’t have any experience yet, but LaManchas are said to be very sweet, docile and quiet — the quietest of the dairy breeds. And they’re an all-American breed, as the breed was developed on the West Coast from descendants of Spanish goats brought over to Mexico by the Conquistadors.

The most unique breed characteristic is their ears — or lack thereof. They are supposed to have tiny ears, called “gopher” or “elf” ears, though the doe we’re getting has the long ears of the Nigerian Dwarf — which is acceptable in early generations. I’m trying to develop a fondness for the weird ears, as they aren’t immediately endearing, so it’s probably good we start with a doe with standard ears.

Speaking of which….

August 18, 2016 at 0801PM

This pic is a bit blurry, and this one of her brother is dark, as well.

August 18, 2016 at 0808PM (2)

But you can tell he has the little ears. I’ve asked for more pics, so hopefully there will be more to come.

They’re a little younger than the ones we were originally going to get, so we’re not getting them for another couple of weeks. In the meantime, we’re putting everything in place — feeders, waterers, a little house, a covered area — to ensure we’re ready. Though, of course, we’ll never really be ready. But that’s not going to stop us.

The post Getting our Goat(s) appeared first on Free Range.


Embarking on a Goat-Raising Adventure

The fight for legalizing chickens continues, though I’ve taken a bit of a campaign hiatus while summer activities caught me up in their clutches. I have to say I’m thrilled that — here in Central Texas anyway — school started this week.

And as we get into the new school year routine, we’re introducing another fun addition to the schedule — goat kid care. I’ve been thinking goaty thoughts since before we even moved here, and then I took that milking class (which actually discouraged me, because it reminded me of all the things we weren’t ready for). But, now, it’s finally time to take the step.

Since I have this “livestock should be useful, not pets” philosophy, our goal for getting goats is similar to that for having chickens: we want milk! Right now, our family is drinking so much milk that I’m constantly calling or texting my husband: “Could you pick up a gallon of milk on your way home?” With growing boys, I can only imagine that our milk consumption will continue to increase. And then there are the possibilities of cheese, butter, ice cream and even goat milk soap.


Decisions, Decisions

Even with our goal clearly in mind, there were still tons of choices before us. What kind of goat should we get? A normal-sized goat? A miniature goat? What breed? Where do we get one? How much are we willing to pay? Do we get an adult in milk or a kid? And then, since goats need at least one companion… what should the second goat be? Male? Female?

We finally settled on Nigerian Dwarf goats. They’re small and easier to handle — the breed standard for does is under 21 inches tall. They eat less than full-size goats. And there are breeders in our area that have been working to increase their capacity and suitability for milk production.

It helped that my husband found them cute, as he’s been a bit skeptical of this plan all along. We were also a bit unsure about whether we were really ready for a twice-a-day milking commitment, so we decided to get a kid and ease into it slowly. Get to know her for a while, then think about milking when she’s old enough.

The Kids Are All Right

Every spring, Craigslist and Facebook light up with the exciting news of new kiddings. For years, I’ve been watching and sharing the cute pictures and videos with my husband and children, and it served to whet our appetite. I got a better feel for the way things worked and learned that spring was the time to make the leap — in whatever year we ended up being ready. I scoured these Facebook Pages, groups and websites trying to learn everything I could about choosing Nigerian Dwarf goats. In the end, there were a couple of breeders here in Texas I had my eye on.

This spring, we had a fence, we had a little experience with chickens, and I had my eye on a particular breeder’s kiddings.

It was time to proceed. I communicated with the breeder about our situation and needs and put down a deposit to reserve a doe kid. Then I waited.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this story coming soon.

The post Embarking on a Goat-Raising Adventure appeared first on Free Range.


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