Grinding Grain

My recent post about homemade cereal inspired a reader comment/question about how we grind our grain. I responded to that question in the same comment thread, but I believe the issue deserves its own post.

If you want to get started grinding your own grain, there are several good options. The biggest thing to keep in mind is this: just as with any other tool, your level of investment in a grain mill should correspond to the volume and level of use you’re expecting. But get the right tool for what you want to do.

If you already own a KitchenAid stand mixer, one easy way to get started is to add a grain grinding attachment to it. They can be bought new for under a hundred bucks at Amazon,and I used one on my own mixer for some time. They’re good for small quantities of grain, and produce nice flour, but the hopper is not large at all. It’s a good accessory for producing a few cups of flour or cracked grain here and there, but I wouldn’t recommend it for large scale or everyday family use.

We got our first real grain mill in the late 1990s, when we were learning to take more control of our food supply. (Actually, my very first attempt at grinding wheat involved a blender — and it was a total disaster. Unless you’re simply cracking a cup or two of grain for chickens and have no other options, do not attempt this. It’s like trying to drive a nail with the handle of a screwdriver.) The German-made mill we got is still popular and widely available, and goes by various names. “Family Grain Mill” seems to be among the more common. It looks like this:

and a basic set-up for grain can be had for as little as $130. Or perhaps even less. I haven’t priced them lately, but this mill’s wide availability makes it easy to comparison shop online.

We were happy with the Family Grain Mill, and used it for many years. It was a good, well-built tool that produced reasonably fine flour on the first pass through the mill. It can be adjustable from very coarse to fine. It also has several optional attachments available, for rolling oats or grinding meat or any number of other things.

Another nice thing about this mill: you can get started with a hand crank, and upgrade later to a motorized base if you want. The hand crank is not hard to use, especially for smaller batches or coarser settings, but will give you a good workout on the finest settings. It’s also nice to have in case the power goes out, or you’re trying to live a more off-the-grid lifestyle (or preparing for TEOTWAWKI, but that’s beyond the scope of this blog).

Our biggest problem with the hand crank was securing the clamp tightly enough so the base didn’t come loose while we were really cranking hard on it. Also, some of our countertops weren’t designed so anything could be clamped to them. We had to find a clamping spot that would be both comfortable to stand in and allow the use of one’s dominant hand — and still allow clearance for the turning crank arm. An old table you don’t care about scuffing up with clamp marks usually ends up being the best option.

As we began using the mill more and more regularly, we upgraded to the motorized base. We still had the hand crank for emergencies, but never used it again. The motor was absolutely wonderful. We used this mill for many years, even replacing the burrs a couple of times.

Eventually, however, we outgrew it. Two problems developed: the limited size of the grain hopper, and the mill’s inability to produce truly fine rice flour (fine enough for soaking and fermenting into flatbread batter) on the first pass. With a second pass, we could get sufficient fineness — but that involved standing with the mill and making sure all the flour went down the chute.

With the Yeoman Farm Children now needing large quantities of rice flour on a daily basis, we went shopping for a more appropriate tool. We found it in the L’Equip 760200 NutriMill Grain Mill:

In a word, this thing ROCKS. The hopper has a 20 cup capacity, which we will never outgrow. It’s just as adjustable as our other mill, but produces ultra-fine flour on the first pass. It has never jammed or failed us in any way, and we have used it a lot for several years now. For the money (and you can get them for less than $250 – which is actually similar to the motorized Family Grain Mill), it is very hard to beat this mill. Its only drawbacks — neither of which matter to us — are the unavailability of other attachments and that it is electric-only.

Depending on your budget, it’s still possible that none of the options in this post will work for you. There are cheaper hand crank grain mills out there, and we did experiment with one of them in the chicken coop because we had a large quantity of uncracked corn that we needed to do something with; that mill allowed us to crack the corn enough for the chickens to eat. The problem with some of these is that the long handles and large clamps make them hard to install and use in a kitchen. And I can’t vouch for the fineness of the flour they can produce.

Another option, as always, is eBay. It wouldn’t surprise me if many lightly-used grain mills of all kinds end up there after people have experimented with producing their own flour and then grown tired of the experiment.

As for us, we’re sticking with the NutriMill. It’s definitely an investment, but one of the best that our family has made.

The Takedown

Late yesterday evening, I secured the barn and began walking back toward the house to call it a night. Remember that post over the summer, where I talked about what an important farm tool a pistol-grip spotlight is? I take that thing with me every time I go out at night, and am more or less constantly scanning the trees and fields as I walk. Last night, it proved itself especially useful. As I approached the house, I used the spotlight to illuminate the tall bushes near the back porch. Suddenly, a pair of eyes lit up in the middle of one of those bushes, about eight feet off the ground.

The eyes weren’t moving, and my first thought was that they belonged to a cat. After all, when you have as many barn cats running around as we do, that’s what these things usually end up being. And this animal’s fur even appeared to be the same color as one of our cats. But as I drew closer, something about it didn’t seem quite right. The head wasn’t the right shape. And it wasn’t sitting like a cat.

It looked like a possum. But since its tail was hidden in the bushes, and branches covered a fair amount of its body, I wanted to be sure before I did anything rash. I summoned Mrs. Yeoman Farmer, lit the animal up with the spotlight, and asked MYF if she thought it was a cat. “No way,” she replied. We agreed it was definitely a possum. And I figured it was stalking the barn cats which congregate on the back porch at night.

MYF held the spotlight on the possum, to “freeze” it, while I dashed upstairs to retrieve what may be the most essential of farm tools: a 12-gauge Mossberg pump action shotgun. Back on the porch, I racked a shell of 00 Buck into the chamber, disengaged the safety, and lined the little predator up in my sights from about 25 feet away. One squeeze of the trigger, and he fell through the branches. He was still gripping the branch with that long muscular tail, and at first I wasn’t sure I’d landed a lethal blow. But before I had to waste a second shot, he dropped to the lawn with a thud — and it was clear from the wound that he wasn’t “playing possum.”

Just another night, living in the country, and marveling at the way all these different tools can work together for the safety of our property. And grateful that I’d remembered to give the spotlight a full charge the night before. And invested in a bulk case of 00 Buckshot, so we’d never have to worry about having some close at hand when we needed it.

Boots

We had a nasty winter storm move in last night. There wasn’t much snow, but the temperatures dropped from the upper thirties yesterday afternoon down to about 10F overnight, with winds approaching gale-force speeds. The snow we did get has been blowing and drifting everywhere, and the roads have a good coating of ice on them. Getting into the upper thirties yesterday seems to have melted the snow we got over the weekend…and going into the teens last night turned that stuff into ice. Especially with the winds and the whipping/blowing snow, I’m not venturing off the property today. I’m just glad I brought plenty of firewood in yesterday, ahead of the storm; the wind has now deposited a fairly substantial snowdrift in front of the wood pile.

Unfortunately, when you have livestock, it’s still necessary to venture out to the barn a few times a day no matter what the weather. (But the Yeoman Farm Children are happy that the goats are not in milk right now.)We’re keeping the barn doors closed tightly, and the animals have generated enough body heat to keep their downstairs area in the mid-thirties. The big bonus of that: their water has remained liquid.

But, milk or no milk, I’ve had to go out to the barn. And it’s impossible to express how thankful I was this morning for having made a certain investment: good boots. When we first moved to the country, my temptation was to cut corners and buy cheap rubber boots from Wal Mart. We quickly discovered, however, that cheap boots are no bargain. When you wear boots every time you go outside, those boots take a lot of abuse. Cheap rubber boots literally fall apart after just a couple of months of getting that kind of use. And even before they become completely unusable, they leak moisture; there are few things as uncomfortable as wet socks on a ten degree morning in Michigan.

The solution we settled on long ago: invest in a good set of high quality boots. Yes, they cost substantially more at first — but they easily pay for themselves because they last so much longer. My favorites are made by a company called Muck, and they’re available for sale at most feed stores (the company’s website has a dealer locater that will help you find a place nearby). There are places that sell Muck Boots online with free shipping, but their prices don’t seem much better (if at all) than the local feed store. I’ve never bought these things online. Besides wanting to support a local small business, I also like being able to try the boots on and make sure they fit comfortably. They are a big investment, and I’d be miserable for the next year if they were a little too tight or a little too loose.
Muck makes several models of boots, depending on the application, but all of them are very solidly made and with care should last a full year on the farm. We usually get the Chore model, in either mid-calf or “high” height. The taller ones are heavier, and can make your legs feel tired more quickly after a long day of walking around, but on a cold day with blowing/drifiting snow they are sure nice to have.
When you’re thinking about moving to the country, boots probably aren’t high on your list of things to acquire. They certainly weren’t on our radar. But good boots should be among the very first investments you make. And in our experience, it’s hard to go wrong with anything from Muck.