HP Science Project: Horseback Butter Churning

Recently I attended Transition Charlottesville‘s butter churning skillshare, where Cheenius and Butter Boy taught me that it is possible to make butter by pouring cream into a jar and shaking it. Magical!

But it gets better! They next said you can put the cream jar into a backpack and take it for a hike and it will slosh itself into butter! I immediately thought of horseback riding as an potential jar agitator, and over the weekend I conducted a little experiment. I am happy to report that it was a delicious success! Read on for the details of my science project (please imagine you are viewing a science fair display board) and to learn how you, too, can churn butter on horseback.

Question

Is it possible to shake a jar of cream into butter during a session of horseback riding?

Hypothesis

If I put jars of cream into a pack on my back and ride my horse, then at the end of the session I will have jars of butter.

Procedure

Materials:

: supplies

  • Heavy whipping cream
  • Jar
  • Backpack
  • Bowl, spoon, fresh water (not pictured, for rinsing the butter)
  • Bread (vehicle for finished product)
  • Horse
my unwitting accomplice

my unwitting accomplice

Method:

1. Let the cream sit on the counter for a couple hours to come to room temperature. Fill the jar(s) about halfway with cream. 

jars of cream

2. Put the jars in a backpack. I used a lumbar pack and started with the jars in the main pocket, moving them later to the water bottle holders to keep them from knocking together.

jars-in-backpack

3. Ride your horse. Do not fall off your horse with jars on your back. Do not freak out your horse with the strange jar noises coming from an unknown (to horse) location.

horseback butter churning!

 4. Halfway through your ride, check the jars. You should see a thick sludge of whipped cream. If you have to remove your pack in the middle of your ride because your horse didn’t appreciate the clatter and threatened to unload you, you may have to do some shaking by hand afterward to reach the solid butter stage.

halfway there, and had to remove pack due to irritated pony

halfway there; had to remove pack due to irritated pony

all the way there, after a bit of hand shaking

all the way there, after a bit of hand shaking

5. Once you have a solid ball of butter sloshing in buttermilk, scoop the butter into a bowl and rinse it a few times, mashing it around to get all the buttermilk out. Buttermilk left in the butter will mold and turn the butter rancid quickly.

rinsed-butter

6. Eat the butter!

bread-and-butter

final-butter

Results

I noticed when we started trotting that the jars were a bit noisy, and my horse was acting up a little. My horse is normally sassy, so it’s hard to say if she was reacting to the scary sounds or just being her usual self, but when we started doing more serious work I decided to take the pack off to avoid upsetting her. After about 20 minutes of bouncy riding, the jar contents were a heavy sludge of whipped cream and a friend (hi Josh!) and I finished shaking the jars by hand after we rode. It took less than 5 minutes of shaking to get to the butter stage. I did not expect the jars to make so much noise in the pack (even when separated) and next time will wrap them in cloth to muffle the sounds to spare my poor, sensitive princess pony.

While horseback butter churning may take longer than shaking a jar by hand, it requires less effort. Next time I will give the cream more time to completely warm to room temperature before beginning, to shorten the time required to reach the butter stage, as warmer molecules move faster than cooler molecules. I could also try adding an agitator like a marble or wine cork to the jar to speed up the process.

The type of riding, and the intensity of your session, will affect the time required to reach the butter stage: mellower types of riding, like Western pleasure, where there’s no posting and gaits are smooth, or trail riding at slow speeds, are less bouncy than typical English hunter/jumper riding; and a casual stroll will agitate the cream less than a vigorous training session.

Time to reach butter stage (in minutes):

time to butter graph

Perceived effort required to reach butter stage, on a scale of zero to ten:

effort required

The effects of smoothness and intensity of the ride (rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being most roughest/most intense) on the total time required:

effect of types of riding chart

Level of annoyance felt by horse, as a percentage of maximum possible annoyance:

level of horse's annoyance

(Note: these graphs are not based on real data)

Conclusions

Is it possible to sufficiently shake a jar of cream into butter during a session of horseback riding?

Yes! While my jars didn’t quite reach butter stage before I removed my pack, I am confident that they would have if I had kept the pack on until the end of my riding session, based on the short length of hand-shaking time required to finish the butter.

Additional findings:

  • The reason this works is because heavy cream is an emulsion of fat and water, and the shaking causes the fat molecules to stick to each other, building up clumps of butter. See a better science-y explanation here.
  • Two (half) jars of cream turns into A LOT of butter. Bring more bread next time.
  • People at your barn will think you are strange if you attempt this.

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7 thoughts on “HP Science Project: Horseback Butter Churning

  1. Excellent post! I hope to remember all of the sciency details of this procedure next time I’m saddled with the task of making butter. Your unbridled enthusium for the project will surely spur on many other adventurous folks to attempt this themselves. I know I’m chomping at the bit to give it a try as soon as possible. What a great way to stirrup interest in local, natural, traditional food.

  2. What an impressive science project. If I didn’t know better, I would think that Bill Nye the Science Guy is your father. I may try this while jumping on my trampoline. You could also do this while riding a bike and compare the results to the horse experiment. I hope you gave the horse some of the butter.

  3. So many thoughts!
    1. Nice choice of blue for your mason jars.
    2. Your horse is a total diva. Or maybe she just has amazing ears.
    3. I can’t believe you got FOUR graphs out of this!!!

    • 1. Thanks, they are lovely, aren’t they?
      2. Both!
      3. The graphs are totally scientific and fact-based. Totally!

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