For just a little over 15 months, I have been lucky enough to own chickens. Small chickens and full-grown hens. Large Rhode Island Reds and tiny Sebright bantams. I've spent hours on their coops, hundred on their food. In return, I get eggs, a hobby, and an anchor to this farm. It's legitimized me, in some ways, to know that I can care for things outside my own myopia. They need me, in some ways; but I know I need them more, in many ways.
They're headstrong, the whole lot of them. They want to be left alone until they need something. I've learned to whistle a tune when I feed them. They come running and I once again feel loved by them. One small Antwerp Bantam we have is curious. She lets me pick her up and she falls asleep in the crook of my sunburnt arm while I water her sisters. I like that she trusts me, it gives me hope that others can too.
I don't own them. I take care of them. I'm stewards to their needs, but I do not own them. They can lay or they can't; either way, they're welcome. Some have died by hawk and speeding cars and I mourn them when I think about it. But I'm a believer they deserve the freedom and the danger that comes with versus a dirty-covered chicken run to waste the days in.
And I'm a believer in eating well. I'm a believer in a diet rich in greens and protein for them. I'm a believer that if I can give it to them versus throwing it away, I'll pick the former. I think we all deserve variety and so they get our scraps. And half of their diet is supplemented with a local restaurant's food waste, portioned out in large platters to devour in seconds.
You can see from my Instagram Stories that I make them bowls when I can - warmed up in the winter and often refrigerated in the summer. I'm a big believer in this practice. It's the variety that I think they crave, something we all do. In doing so, I can offer my hens - in a flock of 10 or 28 - a chance at food diversity, with the added benefits of nutrients that can help protect their immune systems, digestive system, and better eggs.
When I make anything, I think of these things. I think of how my meals can feed the world around me, whether through composting, what the dogs can share with us, or if any of the waste and byproducts can benefit the chickens. More often than not, they can. So when I decided to try my hand at cheesemaking, this ran through my mind - how I can use the whey and for what purpose.
This led me to making the chickens their go-to: an oatmeal bowl, soaked in whey, topped with fruit, herbs from our kitchen garden, and some red pepper flakes (good for their immune system). For us, I used the same herbs and spice to roll the curds. And while I'll never be as good as Vermont Creamery, I think it's a good first try, if you have the time (and 28 chickens to help clean up the waste).
Homemade Herbed Goat Cheese
(With no-waste options for your chickens!)
- 1 quart goats milk
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 1 TB white vinegar
- Any herbs and spices you want! (see note below)
- In a saucepan, heat goat milk until bubbles begin to form around the edges
- Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice and vinegar
- Allow to stand for 15 minutes
- While waiting, dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth and put over a receptacle to collect the whey
- Slowly pour milk mixture over cloth. You may have to pour whey into larger jar like I did (save the whey for your chickens, see second note below!)
- Tie ends of cheesecloth into a knot and hang over a measuring cup or other vessel on a wooden spoon
- Allow to drip for 2 hours
- While that is dripping out any excess whey, pulse your herbs in a food processor (see author's note)
- Peel cheese from cloth and roll in your herbs
- Take some plastic wrap and put herbed cheese into the center. Candy roll wrap around the cheese and shape into a log
- Refrigerate until ready to use (best after a couple hours to mellow in the fridge)
Author's Note: I made this cheese to be rolled in fresh herbs. With my partnership with Tractor Supply, I have been fortunate enough to have an excess of healthy plants growing around me. My herbs are all on the deck, just feet away from my kitchen. For this batch, I used tarragon, basil, rosemary, lemon balm, and parsley. You can also use dried herbs, if you want. I also added some red pepper flakes for a kick, and salt and pepper to taste.
Just a few ingredients make the cheese, but I added a special twist by rolling my curds in herbs I had pulsed in the food processor.
As you can see on the left, my kitchen herb garden is still growing strong!
In the background, you can peep some peppers that will be featured soon!
Using up the whey: Oatmeal Bowl for the Chickens
To make the Whey Oats for your poultry: Steep 4 cups instant oats in 2 cups of whey. Allow to soak until oats are softened. Decorate with melon and other scraps in your kitchen (I used 1 1/2 cup cantaloupe, 2 bananas, and the same herbs and red pepper that I myself flavored our cheese with).
To learn more about what chickens can eat, this is a handy little table.
This post was made in partnership with Tractor Supply, who provided me with a selection of herbs from Bonnie Plants. I am SO in love with my kitchen herb garden on our deck and I use it nearly daily. The plants come potted and I just transfer, add a little more soil, and water. It couldn't be easier and I am excited to have herbs (and peppers) to enjoy for the rest of summer.