Thursday, September 18, 2014

Blogging ... and a visit from my daughter


I've spent a bit of time today looking over old blog posts and remembering how much fun it used to be for me to share my day-to-day life with everyone on here. After eight years on this blog, I am currently on track for having the lowest number of posts in any year. It certainly isn't because we don't have a ton of stuff happening around here. I'd have to say that the opposite is true. I always think about blogging when I'm in the midst of something, but then it just never happens. I want that to change. I still love sharing my stories on here! I know I just have to get back into the habit. Now a lot of little things wind up on Facebook, either on my personal page or on the Antiquity Oaks farm page. However, I still love telling the long stories, so I just have to start doing it again!


So, here is a little something that I've been meaning to share! Remember Margaret? She was only 14 when we moved out here, and she and her sister could have drowned in the flooded creek when trying to rescue some goats back in 2008. Click here for her version of the story. Today she is an electrical engineer in Ft. Worth, TX, which is a lifetime away from the farm in Illinois! She flew up here to help out with the Homesteading Conference over Labor Day weekend, and while she was here, she also helped me with some website things for the farm. While we were outside getting pictures of the goats for the website, I also got a couple pictures of her with some of the animals.

The Farm Crawl went well last month, and then we had the Homesteading Conference (mentioned in the above paragraph), and then I flew out to California to speak at the National Heirloom Expo, and I came home to cold and rain and two mama pigs giving birth in the pasture -- yes, all of that at once!

I realize this is a terrible excuse for a blog post, but hopefully I'll be back in the swing of this blogging thing soon! Although most of this is not terribly exciting, the saga of the pigs giving birth has been quite the drama, and I promise I will tell you the story soon. And yes, I will have adorable piglet pictures!



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Stocking up


About a month ago we finally got our first load of hay that will feed our animals through the winter. Since then we got a second and third load of hay, so the barn is filling up fast.

Jonathan, who has now gone off to college, helped stack the first load.


Don't worry. Mike wasn't throwing that bale of hay at Jonathan.

Yeah, I was having fun taking pictures and trying to get all the bales in mid-air.


And this is what it looked like when that first load of hay was stacked. You see who immediately took advantage of that hay stack? (way up on top!)


We all know that the real reason barns have hay stacks is so that the barn cats have a place to hang out. This is Patches, our nine-year-old barn kitty who was dumped out here as a kitten.

Since I took these pictures, we've had two more loads of hay, and this side of the barn now has hay up to the ceiling, and the other side is about half full.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Want to visit?

Kat doing a goat milking demo in 2012
We are busy getting ready for the Third Annual Livingston County Farm Crawl, which will be held next weekend, August 23 and 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. In addition to visiting our farm, you can also visit four other nearby family farms.

Set-up of our soap and wool the first year
Why are we doing this? Well, it all started when I was complaining to a friend one day. You see, we used to get quite a few phone calls and emails from total strangers who wanted to come see our farm in person because they'd seen our website or read one of my books or seen an article and so on. At first it was a lot of fun! But after the tenth or fifteenth time, you start to realize that nothing gets done when you're walking around with visitors chatting -- even when they volunteer to help you, because really, they don't know what they're doing so it takes longer to explain things to them than it would to just do it yourself. So, I decided to set aside a few days each summer just for visitors. Whenever someone would contact me about visiting, I'd suggest that they come on one of our Open Farm days. We did that for a few years, and then one day I was complaining to a farm friend in Iowa about how much work it was to get the farm all gussied up just for a dozen or so visitors. And she said, "Why don't you have a farm crawl?" A what?

I guess pubs are few and far between in Iowa, so instead of pub crawls they do farm crawls. It made sense that if a few farms got together to promote a day where people could visit multiple farms, we would get more visitors. There were four farms total, and we figured that if each of us could get 10 or 20 people to come, that would be 40 to 80 for all four farms. We were all very surprised and excited when we had 300 visitors that first year!

Last year another farm joined, making a total of five farms for people to visit, and this year we've decided to go from Saturday only to Sunday also. If the number of visitors continues to grow, it could get a little crazy on a single day.

You can visit the official Farm Crawl website to see the map and list of farms, which includes what you will see at each farm and what will be available to buy. Here is what will be happening on Antiquity Oaks:

Available to purchase: vegetables, eggs (both chicken and duck), goat milk soap made with organic oils, Shetland wool roving, Shetland and llama yarn, raw Shetland fleeces, Old English Southdown wool batting, naturally colored sheepskins, llama and wool rugs, books on raising livestock, gardening, homesteading, etc. Credit cards accepted.

Demonstrations:
Saturday, 10:30 a.m. Goat milking
Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Solar oven cooking demo
Saturday, 2 p.m. Mozzarella making
Sunday, 11 a.m. Scything (cutting grass hay with a scythe)
Sunday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Solar oven cooking demo
Sunday, 3 p.m. Goat milking

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Virtual garden tour

Due to all the challenges that you've all been hearing about over the past few months, things happened later than usual this year, and the garden was no exception. However, we are doing better than I had expected. Here's what it looks like now ...

The perennials are done producing and just hanging out until next year. That's asparagus in the middle, rhubarb on the left and strawberries in the lower right corner...

The tomato plants are still really small ...

but we have tomatoes! They are still green but should be ripening soon. These are chocolate cherry tomatoes, and I can hardly wait. No, they do not taste like chocolate. They are chocolate colored, and they are as yummy as chocolate in their own way. They are definitely my favorite cherry tomato.

The zucchini and patty pan squash are doing great. The row on the left is zucchini, and the row on the right is patty pan squash. They were planted six feet apart, but they are so big, they have eclipsed the walkway. It seems like we can never plant them far enough apart. When you have nothing but seeds in your hands, it always seems like you are giving them more than enough room. I think I may have even posted on here in a previous year that I was going to start planting them eight feet apart.

And here are some awesome peppers that we are trying for the first time -- feher ozon paprika. They are supposed to ripen to a peachy-orange color. It's a sweet pepper, and yes, you can supposedly dry them and grind them up to make paprika.

A month ago, I planted some Swiss chard...


There are also onions and kale, but I didn't get pictures of them. Sunday I planted five types of lettuce in one of the raised beds: flame, Ella Kropf, speckled, Yugoslavian red butterhead, and bunte forellenschluss. Some of the raised beds have hoops on them so that we can cover them and continue to harvest through the winter! Soon we'll be planting more fall crops, such as arugula and more spinach and lettuce, also in the raised beds.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Apples!


This poor tree was planted in 2008, and this is the first year that it has produced more than three or four fruit. Most of our fruit trees are producing a decent harvest by three years of age. Our pears trees produced an average of 27 pounds each in their third year.

I do have to give the apple tree credit for merely surviving, as it is the young fruit tree closest to the barn, which means that whenever the goats accidentally get out, it is the first one to be attacked. You can see that the bark was recently stripped off on the left side of the trunk. Unfortunately, this type of thing happens at least annually.

You may have also noticed the lack of mulch, which doesn't help, as the tree has to compete with the grass and weeds for water and nutrients. As soon as the apples are harvested, I will add compost and mulch. I normally do that twice a year -- in spring and in fall -- but because of my injuries and illnesses the first six months, it was one of the many things that slipped through the cracks. So, I am especially grateful that this little tree pulled through with such a nice harvest!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Update on everything!

Yikes! July is already more than half done! My knee has finally improved enough that I am able to do about 80% of what I normally can do, which is really great news for me and everyone else here.

My baby daughter has flown the coop big time! Even though she had been at the University of Illinois for the past two years, that was less than two hours away. On Friday she moved all the way to Ft. Collins to begin work on her Ph.D. at Colorado State.

And here are a few pictures of things happening around the farm....

We have been teaching Tinker the yearling lady llama to lead, and she is doing splendidly! I never dreamed I would ever have a llama as friendly as her. Most are quite aloof, but Tinker is a true sweetheart, loving attention ...

We just moved the youngest batch of chickens out of the barn and into their bottomless pen (a.k.a. chicken tractor) ...

And the ducklings that hatched a month ago are growing so fast ...

Hope to get another update out before another month passes!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Updates around the farm

Life moves on around here at lightening speed this time of year, regardless of whether anyone is injured or sick or if something gets broken.

I am happy to say that Charlotte is doing very well. She came home the day I slipped and fell in the bathroom, so I have not been able to spend any time with her as it was rather challenging for me to walk more than a few steps after falling and landing on my knee. Mike and the girls took Charlotte's boys out to see her after she got back, but no one seemed to recognize anyone. The kids were only a day and a half old when Charlotte was taken to the University, and she stayed there for a week, so I knew it would be asking for a little miracle for them to recognize each other, but I wanted to at least try. So, the boys are drinking goat milk from a bottle.

Speaking of my knee, I went to the ortho doc a week after falling again, and he talked me into a cortisone injection. After the injection, he said that he would expect it to flare up and get worse for a couple of days. It did flare up, but unfortunately, it lasted for more than two or three days. It is improving a little now, a full week after the injection, but I am still unable to do anything without it swelling up even worse. Physical therapy is supposed to start next Wednesday, but I am not terribly hopeful unless the swelling goes down.

Silver fir tree tomato plant at sundown

We are still planting in the garden, and we are not being helped by a rabbit or two (or five) that is eating bedding plants or newly sprouted seeds. Something ate almost all of our lemon squash plants, as well as a few pepper plants and eggplant plants. Mike chased a rabbit out of the garden yesterday and sealed up the hole in the fence that it came through, but I'm not terribly sure that there are not more of them hiding in the garden area. There are a few places with very tall weeds where they could be living.


Yesterday, 52 baby cockerels arrived from Cackle Hatchery. They are being raised for meat. We were not able to hatch enough chicks this year, so I finally got tired of waiting and ordered some males.

Buff Orpingtons at six weeks of age

We sold the eight Delaware chickens that we hatched, and we have some buff Orpingtons that are now about six weeks old, and we have moved them into a chicken tractor. Once the pullets are big enough, we will integrate them into the laying flock, and the few males that are in there will be used for meat.

Six-week old heritage turkeys, mostly Royal Palm

We moved our turkey poults into a moveable pen also. As they get larger, we will split the group and move half of them into another pen so they are not crowded.


And last but not least, the ducks are doing a good job of reproducing this year. We only have four females, but two have hatched ducklings already! All males will become dinner while the females will be kept to lay eggs next next, as well as to make more ducklings. Yes, the mama is white while the babies are black. We have a black Cayuga drake so we're assuming these are all his babies.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Llama spa day

The following post was actually written on Sunday, June 8, and I only needed to add photos and video, but on Tuesday morning, June 10, I slipped and fell on the tile floor in our bathroom, on my already injured knee, of course. So I lost whatever progress I'd made over the last few weeks and am back to doing nothing outside. Let's just end this part of the post by saying that my orthopedic surgeon is getting to know me really well.

Sitara and Tinker after shearing.
Sunday, June 8 did not start out very well. At 9:00 Mike walked in and said that Katy (the person not the llama) just told him that the llama shearer was coming today. Oops! Yeah, I had forgotten to tell him, but I said not to worry because he wasn't supposed to be here until 10:00. And then I looked out the window and saw a pickup truck and trailer driving very slowly in front of our house. "I hope that's not him," I said, half joking. Guess what! It was him!

Luckily, Oscar the yearling llama is close to the house and very easy to catch, so Mike grabbed him while the shearer was setting up. Before the shearer was done with him, Mike brought up Merlin the llama that guards the sheep. And then things got complicated.

Catching the last three was not easy, so the shearer volunteered to help. Mike, Katy, Kat, the shearer, and his assistant went into the pasture. (I didn't help because I'd had gall bladder surgery 12 days earlier and was not supposed to be lifting anything heavier than ten pounds.) When Tinker the yearling female got fairly close to Mike, he lunged and wrapped his arms around her neck. He was not expecting her mother Sitara to go into full-on llama attack guard mode! Everyone watching says that Mike sustained a few good mama llama kicks before he had his other arm wrapped around her neck, and then the shearer ran up and got the halter and lead rope on mama Sitara. Mike wound up with llama spit on him from mama, but he doesn't have any real injuries from the ordeal.

Sitara sounded the alarm the moment that Mike grabbed her baby, and she never stopped until the two of them were in a stall together. That means she screamed the entire time she was being sheared, even though we were holding her daughter right there next to her. And she continued screaming while we were shearing her daughter. She quieted down once we put the two of them in a stall, but a few minutes later, Kat walked past, and Sitara let out a good scream. And because words simply cannot do justice when describing a llama scream, I took a few seconds of video for you ...

video

Catching Dolce was pretty easy because he hates Merlin, so Mike's brilliant idea was to take Merlin into the pasture neighboring Dolce's, and Dolce immediately came running up to the gate. Kat was leading Merlin and started to back away because she could hear Merlin regurgitating and getting read to start spitting at Dolce.

Katy, who has only been on the farm for a couple of weeks, said that the llamas were "really scary." Yep, that's why we have them! They are here to guard the sheep and goats from coyotes, and they are extremely good at their jobs.

After shearing Merlin was returned to the sheep pasture, Oscar was returned to the side yard, and Dolce was returned to the back 20. Sitara was put in the pasture with Dolce for breeding, and her daughter was kept in the barn so that we can work with her, training her to lead.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Abby kidded!


Abby is one of our second-generation mini lamanchas. Yes, I know she does not have lamancha ears, but that can happen when you get into the second generation of crosses. I did not intentionally breed her, but in mid-January we discovered all of the bucks loose. Normally the bucks don't bother busting through a fence unless there is a doe in heat, so we marked the calendar, and two weeks ago when my daughter Kat was trimming hooves on our dry does, she noticed an udder forming on Abby. We checked the calendar and realized she would be due in a couple of weeks, which brings us to today.

Katy the intern noticed that Abby was much more talkative than normal this morning, and she became more talkative as the day went on. So, this afternoon, Kat, Katy, and I planted ourselves in the barn to keep an eye on her. Then I realized I needed to come into the house to put medicine on my knee, and eventually Kat came inside, and finally Katy also gave up on her. We had the baby monitor on, but it's in my bedroom. We could hear it from all over the house and assumed that we would know when someone needed to check on her again.

I sat in the living room checking Facebook with my phone, and when the battery was down to 1%, I asked Kat to take it upstairs and plug it in for me. A few seconds after she walked into my bedroom, she screamed, "There's a baby! It's a baby!" and came running downstairs. Kat and Katy ran to the barn and I hobbled along after them.


Even though she is a first freshener, Abby did a fine job of giving birth to two little doelings and getting them mostly clean.


Kat and Katy each took a towel and helped her out a little. The belted doeling started nursing in no time, and her little sister was not far behind.



We are already very impressed with Abby's udder and orifices. Her udder was very large and tight before she kidded, so Kat milked her out after kidding (after her kids' tummies were quite full) and was really impressed with her whole mammary system.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Charlotte update

The last 24 hours has been such a whirlwind of challenges and decisions, I had to go back and read yesterday's blog post before writing this one because I didn't remember where I had left off. Charlotte is still at U of I and still alive for now, but they don't know what is wrong with her. They are giving her drugs that are supposed to help her blood clot -- both modern medicine and Chinese medicine.

After I posted yesterday's message, they completed two transfusions. The first one brought her PCV (packed cell volume) from 15 to 22, and the second transfusion brought it from 22 to 33. They thought that she would be in good shape at least until morning, but I got a phone call shortly before 10 p.m. with the news that her PCV had already dropped back down to 25! They felt that she must be hemorrhaging badly and said that if her PCV continued to drop that fast, she would be dead very soon. They asked for permission to do surgery immediately. I asked for a few minutes to discuss it with my family before deciding.

I called Katherine my daughter who had raised Charlotte and who had spent the whole day with her at the clinic. When I asked if we should go forward with the surgery, she simply replied, "It's Charlotte."

"Yeah, that says a lot, doesn't it," I replied.

And then Katherine offered to help pay the vet bills, which had already climbed to more than $750 and would completely eclipse $1000 with surgery. How could I say "no" at that point? I called the vet back and said to do the surgery. It seemed likely that Charlotte would need more blood, so in the dark of night, we went out into the pasture to find our two largest goats who would be the donors. Mike and Jonathan were lifting goats, and when Jonathan offered me one, I was about to take it until Mike yelled, reminding me that because of my gall bladder surgery I'm not supposed to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for two weeks. Jonathan headed down to the clinic with Cowboy and Etta in a dog crate on the back of the pickup, arriving shortly after midnight.

Katherine headed back to the vet hospital from her home in Urbana and sat in the waiting room until past 1 a.m. when they finished the surgery.

The verdict: nothing. They looked everywhere and could find nothing bleeding internally. The vet explained there are only three reasons for such a low PCV:
   1) blood is being lost
   2) red blood cells are being destroyed by the body, which can occur during an infection
   3) the body is not making red blood cells

Since they found nothing bleeding, #2 sounds like a viable option because Charlotte does have a raging infection that required IV antibiotics to treat. However, because her PCV was falling so rapidly, if her body was destroying red blood cells, the vet said that he would also expect her to be terribly jaundiced, which she is not.

Having just endured abdominal surgery myself, I was feeling really guilty for having put Charlotte through that for absolutely no good reason. Of course, I had to remind myself that had we not agreed to surgery and she died, I would have felt even more guilty. I feel like I am in a no-win situation right now. And I am in good company because the vets have no idea what is happening either. They can simply watch her symptoms and keep treating them as they occur.

The really strange thing is that her PCV actually stabilized after the surgery and sat at 24 from last night until this afternoon when it started to drop again. It is now down to 20. If it gets down to 17, they will do another transfusion using the blood from one of our goats.

Someone on Facebook suggested that this might be caused by something as simple as intestinal worms, but they did a fecal and said that there is no way that her worm load could possible explain the dramatic drop in PCV she has been experiencing.

I should have been taking notes when the vet called because she was sharing so much information. She went over all of the different blood work, basically saying, "if x, then y" such as the number of immature white blood cells is decreasing and the mature number is increasing, which means she is losing less blood than yesterday. They might think that she had a bleeding ulcer except that they would expect her appetite to be non-existent, and she does eat fairly well, although not as much as normal. Still, they are treating her with an ulcer drug (a gastro protectant), just in case. They ruled out so many possible causes, it was mind boggling.

Katherine will be heading back to the clinic first thing in the morning. The staff and students said that Charlotte's demeanor obviously brightens when she is there. And Katherine said that Charlotte seems to be the students' favorite patient at the moment. Everyone talks about how sweet she is. While Katherine is there, she milks her and she reads to her just as she did seven years ago when Charlotte was a baby living in Katherine's bedroom. When she reads to her, Katherine said that Charlotte lays her head on her lap and falls asleep. What does one read to a goat? Maureen Johnson's novel, The Madness Underneath: Book 2 on Kindle.

So, we just continue to wait ...
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