Friday, July 31, 2015

Scaling back in one area of my life

If you've been hanging around here for very long, you know that I've produced most of my own body care products since 2003. I've even sold my own goat milk soap and a few other body care products. But we can't do it all, and I totally understand that some people don't even want to make their own soap or body butter. But you do want natural products with ingredients that you understand -- products that you could make yourself, if only you had the time and inclination. That's why I fell in love with Poofy Organics. Their ingredient lists are very similar to the ones I've used when making my own personal care products, which means they are all natural, and most are organic.

I've also come to the conclusion that I can't do it all. For years, I've been saying that I'm going to create my own all-natural version of Tiger Balm, and that still hasn't happened. Tiger Balm has petroleum jelly in it, which is (as the name implies) a petroleum product, and I hate the idea of slathering that on my skin. Biofreeze has green dye in it, which again, I hate using. Poofy, however, has an organic liniment called RUB-ology, which is made with beeswax and sunflower oil and essential oils and NO artificial colors -- or anything artificial, for that matter.

I looked for a VERY long time to find cosmetics that were non-toxic. If you've read my book Ecothrifty, you know that most cosmetics do contain toxic chemicals, including many that are carcinogenic. And that is one reason I only wear make-up about three times a year, usually only when I know there will be many photo-ops through the day, such as one of my children's graduation ceremonies. Back when I was doing regular television appearances to promote my books, I tried to not think about the chemicals in the make-up, and I'd wash it off my face as soon as I was off camera!

Anyway, as part of my scaling back -- and in an attempt to encourage others to trade in their toxic products for those that are truly toxin-free -- I've decided to become a Poofy GUIDE, which means I'm selling it. How is that scaling back, you ask? Because I'm not making my own AND selling it. This actually eliminates about 80% of the work! I might continue making my own goat milk soap, but as for the rest of the body care products, I've realized that I just need to stop trying to do everything. So, if you'd like to check out their products and see why I'm so excited, click here to visit the main website. And if you'd like to use a quick order form after checking out some of the products, click here.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Chick days!

I know most people get chicks in the spring, but when I'm getting chicks for breeding purposes, I like getting them in late summer or early fall so that they can mature over the fall and winter and be ready to lay in early spring. Ultimately we get a lot more eggs the first year by doing it this way.

Yesterday we received a shipment of 26 Delaware chicks. (Yes, they were sent through the U.S. Postal Service. It usually works out fine because chicks don't need anything to eat or drink the first day or two after hatching.) They are one of my favorite breeds, and I'm going to have some fun crossing them with barred rocks and New Hampshires, which will be arriving in another month.

They're straight run, which means we have no idea what we have for cockerels and pullets. The pullets will grow up to be laying hens, and most of the cockerels will become chicken dinner around November and December. Since it will probably only be about 12 or 13 males, and we'll keep two for breeding that will only leave about 10 for dinner, which isn't enough to drive two hours to the processor, so Mike will butcher them as we need them over the winter.

We put them in an old water trough for the first week or so until we're sure they know where the water and feed are located, and they understand that being under the heat lamp keeps them warm. (That's why the pictures are pink; the heat lamp is red.)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Turkey breeding woes

Last year we were quite successful hatching turkeys in the incubator and with hens, but this year was a totally different story. We had a complete failure in the incubator so none of the 19 eggs hatched, and although we've had two mamas setting, only one actually finished the job, but she then left the nest after five of them had fully hatched and one had only pipped the shell.

Mike didn't know you aren't supposed to "help" with hatching turkeys, so he finished ripping off the shell, thinking that mama would then take care of the little poult. But she didn't. So we put it in the incubator to dry off and get his land legs. That didn't really happen. For two days I kept finding him flipped over, and I kept sitting him upright and leaning against the side of the incubator. Just about the time that I figured we should put him down, he finally got the strength in his legs to be able to stand! Although that little story has a happy ending, it still meant we wound up with only five total turkeys, which isn't even enough to take to get processed. I waited around for another hen to hatch her eggs, but then realized she wasn't really serious about the whole thing when the eggs started to stink.

We were also supposed to be getting some blue slate and lavender turkeys from a hatchery in Indiana, but they had problems, so they said the poults wouldn't be shipping until July or August, which isn't enough time for them to grow out by Thanksgiving. I told them to just wait and ship in late August, as I was planning to keep the hens and a couple of toms for breeding anyway. We can butcher the extra toms next spring.

So, we were in the middle of June and had only five turkeys for the year. It was too late to get any heritage turkeys from another hatchery because they were all sold out, so I decided to get some broad breasted turkeys. I checked all the usual hatcheries, and no one had any left. Then I started looking at hatcheries that I've never used before, and I finally found one in Iowa -- Meyer -- that had some broad breasted whites that could be shipped towards the end of July. They'll be four months old by Thanksgiving, but that's big enough for this breed to be processed at a decent size. In fact, when we've kept this breed for six or seven months, we've wound up with some 35 to 45 pounds toms!

I finally got that long-awaited phone call from the post office yesterday at 11:45 a.m. Since the invention of Click-n-Ship, I don't know our post office workers as well as I used to, and the woman on the phone said, "You've got some chicks here. What do you want me to do with 'em?" Hmm ... what were my options, really? I said that I'd come get them and should be there in ten to fifteen minutes, to which she replied, "You've got 15 minutes!" Geez! Seriously? Was she really going to let the little thing stay in the post office until the next day if I didn't get there by the usual closing time of noon. (Welcome to life in a rural community!)

Not knowing her and not knowing whether or not she would really leave the poults there, I quickly told my son that I was heading to town to get some baby birds. At the time I didn't know if this was my turkey order or my Delaware chicken order that should have arrived from another small hatchery a couple of weeks ago. I drove as fast as one can responsibly drive on rural gravel roads and managed to get there before closing time. I had ordered 15, and that's exactly how many they shipped. All of them looked healthy and happy except for one that was already cold and stiff. I took the above photo seven hours later after everyone was settled in and eating and drinking.

I am still looking forward to getting my new breeders next month, and next year I'm planning to purchase a better incubator than the little styrofoam thing that we've been using.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fish kill!

Yesterday morning I woke up and looked out the window of our bathroom to see something rather large floating on the surface of our pond. Was it a dead duck? I called down the stairs to Mike asking him to check it out. He walked out onto the deck and quickly realized it was a dead fish! And then he saw another one and another and another. Then he said the pond was covered with dead fish!

I called the local Soil and Water office, where the woman said the fish kill was probably due to chemical run-off from a nearby field, and she suggested I call a fish biologist at the Department of Natural Resources, which I did. But he wasn't in his office, so I left a message, and of course he called back when I wasn't home. He spoke to my son and told him to call the EPA, which my son did. The person on the phone there said that someone would probably come out to investigate.

Today I realized that if the EPA put our address in a GPS system, they'd arrive at the pond down the road and leave because it looks lovely. (GPS doesn't know where we are.) So, I called the EPA this morning and had a lengthy conversation with someone who told me that they don't usually get involved in private pond problems unless there is evidence of definite pollution. So, he suggested I call the DNR. I told him that DNR had actually referred us to him, and he said that maybe DNR thought the EPA would be interested, but they're not, and the fish biologist at DNR would be our best bet in figuring out what happened. He said that most fish kills are due to oxygen deprivation, but he also gave me the name of a water testing lab in Peoria in case we wanted to check for the presence of chemicals in the water.

I emailed the water testing lab, and they said the fish kill was probably due to oxygen deprivation, but for a few hundred dollars they could test the water. So, I've spent the last few hours reading about fish kill and duckweed.

As you can see in the above photo, the surface of the pond is mostly green. It's not algae though. It's duckweed, which has never been a problem until this year. Apparently it can be spread by wild waterfowl visiting your pond and dropping off a plant or two, which can then multiply every single day! And before you know it, the surface of your pond is covered with duckweed. The good news is that it killed the algae because it doesn't allow any light to get into the pond. The bad news is that it's as bad for the fish as a huge algae bloom because it can ultimately reduce their oxygen and suffocate them.

So, we have one vote for poisoning and two votes for suffocation, and my reading is leading me to think that suffocation is probably the culprit. I did call the fish biologist again, however, and am waiting for him to call me back.

Monday, July 20, 2015

One year anniversary of our second farm!

July 21, 2014

Tomorrow is our one year anniversary as owners of Mike's family farm in Henry, IL. I never wrote about it on here, but it was quite the drama. He's wanted the farm for as long as I can remember, but it was in a trust with his father and all of his father's siblings as trustees. Mike's grandfather created the trust in such a way that it could not be sold without unanimous approval of all trustees, which was a pretty smart move. For years, four of the six siblings wanted to sell, but Mike's father and an uncle in Alaska had said no. Then after Mike's father died, the other hold-out finally gave in and agreed to sell, so the farm was put on the market.

It was truly the most back-n-forth drama of my life. I lost track of how many times we thought we had it, but then, on no, we can't get it. Here is the very abridged version ....

We initially thought we couldn't afford it, but after lots of brainstorming and a good bit of luck, it looked like we could buy it with a little help from a silent partner. But then someone else put down a contract on it before we did, and he was threatening to sue if they didn't sell it to him. But then it looked like that wasn't a problem. Then two of Mike's uncles decided to take a piece of the land for themselves, which meant we only had to come up with financing for 67 acres instead of 97, and they even said we could use their land, which was even more awesome. We truly were not sure that we were going to get it until the day that we sat down and signed the papers.

Mike in soybean field in 2014
Then the real work began. Of the 67 acres we bought, about 27 are tillable, while the rest are forest and wetland. It had been farmed conventionally with corn and soybeans for about 50 years, and our goal was, of course, to transition to organic something, although we didn't know what at the time. We didn't really care what was growing there -- as long as it was organic. We still don't care exactly what the crop is, as long as it's organic.

I posted all over the Internet and asked every organic farmer I knew, trying to find someone who would plant something organic on the 27 tillable acres this year. We thought we had someone who was going to plant hay, but that fizzled in a very odd manner with more drama. In January I spoke with a crop consultant who said that it wouldn't be the end of the world if we let the land lay fallow for a year and then just till under everything that grew, and that's pretty much what has happened.

Mike planting on Memorial Day 2015
We did go out there on Memorial Day and plant two very long rows of winter squash and melons, which can easily grow without day-to-day attention. Although they are growing, they are growing much more slowly than the garden on our farm here. We took some manure and straw out there for fertility, but it obviously wasn't enough, so we'll need to fertilize some more. We've never before transitioned land that was previously farmed conventionally, although I've heard it takes a few years to get it to liven up. We'll take another pickup load of manure out there, and I'm thinking I'll also buy some fish emulsion.

It appears we have found someone who is willing to plant organic wheat and hay for us on a purely contract basis. He doesn't want to do a 50/50 share as many farmers do because he already has his own hay business and has enough trouble selling his own hay. So, the goal is to build a storage building out there next spring and to grow the hay and wheat (straw) for our own use here on Antiquity Oaks. I've never been able to buy organic hay or straw around here in the past, so I'm especially excited about that prospect.

I was going to take pictures today to show you how our squash and melon plants were doing, but the rain chased us away prematurely.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The next chapter

This blog post has been percolating in my head for months. It's a blog post I never wanted to write. It includes facts I don't want to be true. Many of you know I grew up as a "sickly" child, according to my mother and doctor. There was "nothing" that could be done to keep me healthy, again according to them. But in my 20s, I discovered that by adopting a diet rich in real foods, I no longer suffered from the all-too-common colds and flus and other ills that had plagued me for the first two decades of my life. I would go as long as five years without a cold and ten years without the flu.

For the past year and a half, I've become the sickly child again. At least that's how I feel as I've dealt with one health issue after another, some of which I've written about here. All along in the back of my head, I had a nagging feeling that I might have a problem with food sensitivities.  But my brain would quickly respond that's not possible! But then the other side of my brain would say, "remember back when you were a vegan, your problems with constipation went away, and every time you'd have a little piece of cheese or other dairy product, it'd come back." But the rest of my brain would just ignore that. It could NOT be true! I LOVE cheese! I write about cheesemaking. I talk about cheesemaking. I TEACH cheesemaking!

Last year when I got diagnosed with Hashimoto's, I read that the majority of people with thyroid disease have a sensitivity to wheat and gluten, and that some people have actually reversed the disease by removing gluten from their diet. I was sick and tired and desperate, so I quit eating wheat, which meant no more bread baking, which we had been doing for the past 26 years, almost daily for more than a decade. (See that pic on the right.) I LOVED bread! There are bread recipes in my books. I've taught bread baking from Washington State to Pennsylvania and Virginia, and I always felt bad when someone would ask me if I had any tips for gluten-free bread. I even said, "I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't eat bread!" It seemed a horrible fate. But after eliminating wheat from my diet, it became obvious that my body didn't like it. I'd occasionally wind up eating something with wheat in it when traveling, and the only thing that happened is that my digestive system would just shut down. Not pooping when you're traveling is not such a bad thing ... until you've gone five days!

Many aspects of my health have improved since eliminating wheat. I haven't had a cold or flu in more than a year now, I no longer have migraines, my asthma is gone, and my Hashimoto's is in remission. My antibodies were cut in half, and my hormones have remained at an ideal level. I no longer take any prescription meds. My vitamin D and vitamin B12 deficiencies have been completely corrected, and those levels are now optimal. But things weren't perfect. I still had nagging digestive issues, including constipation, motion sickness, and random nausea in the middle of the night. After seeing how my body reacted to wheat, I knew that I probably had other food sensitivities, which were wreaking havoc on my digestive system. But what?

The gold standard for figuring out food allergies is an elimination diet. I started talking about it last year and said that after the holidays I'd start. The holidays came and went, and it didn't happen. I gave a half-hearted shot at it in January, but I had one excuse after another why it wasn't a good time. Finally, in March after reading yet another book about auto-immune diseases and how food sensitivities play a major role, I started one day cold turkey. I eliminated corn, soy, dairy, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts. After three weeks of not having any of those foods, I started to add them back into diet one by one with several days in between so that there would be no confusing which food was causing a reaction.

Of all the foods I eliminated, the only one that I've been able to add back into my diet with no problems has been peanuts. Everything else caused a reaction of some sort. Eggs was one of the worst as it caused chaos in my digestive tract, starting with nausea. I was also sleepy and dizzy and generally feeling like I'd come down with a stomach bug. It occurred to me that my motion sickness and random nausea had probably been caused by eggs all along. In fact, as I was flying into Denver last month in a rather bumpy flight, it suddenly occurred to me that I was feeling absolutely no motion sickness at all!

I could write pages and pages about this, but since March I've been keeping a food journal and writing down everything I eat and everything that happens to my body. I've tried to re-introduce most foods more than once because honestly, there isn't anything that I want to give up. Above all else, the number one thing I did NOT want to give up was dairy products. I've only tried cow milk once, and it was in the form of yogurt. It was our wonderful grassfed Jersey's milk made into yogurt, which is supposed to be easier to digest because of the probiotics, and yet it was not good. I had a smoothie made with the yogurt and didn't poop for three days. Not fun!

The goat milk did slow down my digestive system some, but not nearly as bad as the cow. This has made me very unhappy. It's not like I can just stop buying this stuff at the store! I have 14 goats out there making milk as I type. So far, this spring, all of the milk has been used to feed kids, but at some point, the kids won't need the milk any longer, and how am I going to feel about continuing to go out there and milk them every day? At the moment, my husband is actually doing almost all of the milking, but when he starts teaching again in the fall, the job will be mine again. I love my goats, but I originally got them because I loved their milk and cheese and yogurt. What will I do if those reasons no longer exist? I honestly don't know.

At this point, I've told myself that I should just continue for the next year before making any decisions. I've spent the last 13 years building a wonderful herd of milkers, and it would be tough to give that up. I am hopeful that as my body continues to heal, I will once again be able to consume their milk. Many people have been able to do that, but not everyone. I am not a patient person. I wish I knew what the future would hold for me, but I must learn patience.

That leads me to the next thing that causes health problems -- stress! Stress plays a major role in almost every disease. And we are all under stress. I constantly hear people say that they can't do anything about the stress in their lives. And I've said the same thing myself. But I've spent a good chunk of the past year reading books to help me regain my health, and it has finally sunk in ... we will all have stressful situations come into our lives every day, and we can't help that. We can, however, control how we respond to those situations. And it isn't just a matter of saying that you won't get upset when something negative happens. That just does not work.

I've learned that we have to make a conscious effort to regularly force our minds into a state of relaxation. Okay, "force" is not the right word, but it feels like that in the beginning. I've starting practicing yoga and meditation on a regular basis. I'd love to say daily, and that's the goal, but I'm not there yet. I have noticed that when I meditate daily, my response to stressful situations is much more calm -- and that's exciting!

I've also learned to take time every day to be grateful for the beauty in my life. Even when things are not going well, there are things to be grateful for. When I had car trouble last month, I sat there and thought of all the things for which to be grateful -- a tow truck was coming, I had peanuts in my purse, and so on.

I knew I'd be entering a new chapter in my life when my children left home. I also knew menopause would create some changes. But I always thought they'd be outward things, such as a new career. I never anticipated the changes within my body and mind that would have to happen. Yes, I have had my pity party, as I did not want any of these changes to happen. I thought life was perfectly wonderful over the past decade. But we have to play the hand we're dealt, and I intend to figure out how to make this next chapter the best yet.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Farewell old trailer

We bought this horse trailer in the first few months after we moved out here in 2002. It came as part of a package deal with Katherine's horse Buddy. The horse died at the ripe old age of 30 in 2008, but the trailer, which is 1970s vintage, kept rolling along .... until last week.

Mike used it to take chickens to the processor down in Arthur, which is about a two-and-a-half hour drive. When he came home, he was backing up the trailer to park it when one of the wheels fell off. Apparently the bearings self destructed. So, it will soon be going to the scrap yard.

That old trailer served us well over the last 13 years. It carried goats to goat shows, and chickens and turkeys to the processor, as well as lambs, pigs, and calves. We used it to pick up our Irish dexter cattle in Missouri and to bring home Beauty the Jersey and her calf Beau last year.

It is time for us to move on, and we'll be purchasing a bona fide livestock trailer to replace it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The recliner -- and why you should live your dream NOW!

I haven't written a decent blog post in almost two months -- and that one was entitled "Catching Up," because I hadn't posted in a couple of weeks, during which time I had severely injured my back. And my back has now been re-injured so many times that I've lost count. It's somewhere around seven or eight. Each time I hurt it, I wind up back in the recliner because it is the only position in which I am not crying in pain.

We bought the recliner when I was pregnant with Katherine 22 years ago, and it used to hold such fond memories of nursing her as a baby and cuddling and reading to my children. Now, however, I am starting to refer to it as "that stupid recliner" and say things like, "I hate that chair!" Thankfully, my stints in the recliner are getting shorter. This last time it was only a day. Apparently I have a bulging disc in my back, and it takes the tiniest wrong movement to cause it to flare up again -- things like standing too long at a sink washing dishes. It isn't a big sudden, "Ouch!" kind of pain. It's a slow-building pain, which obviously gets worse as the disc swells more. I've discovered that icing my back after anything that could remotely cause a problem is a good idea, and I've probably avoided a few stints in the recliner by doing that. But sometimes I don't realize something is problematic until it's too late. Spending two hours sitting on the ground trying to get newborn kids to nurse proved to be a definite no-no.

Speaking of kids ... we've had five goats give birth since April 27, and three more are due within the next month. Aurora gave birth to quads the morning of April 27, and by that afternoon, I was in the recliner, which is where I stayed for almost a full two days. Since then, Mike has handled most of the birthing while I stand around taking pictures, trying to keep my back as straight as possible, not because it hurts to bend it, but because it will cause excruciating pain later, if I bend it the wrong way for too long. And that's the problem. It would be easy to not move the wrong way, if my body gave me some indication at the moment that I was doing something wrong. But it doesn't work like that. Nerve pain is quite different from muscle pain. It kind of feels like my body is giving me a pop quiz 24/7 on how to stand erect.

Part of the reason I haven't been blogging is because I haven't been able to sit in front of the computer for so many days. And when I am able to sit here, I spend hours catching up on things like email. I just updated the kidding schedule on our website so that people can see which kids are still available for sale. That was also about two months out of date.

The other reason I haven't been blogging is because I don't want to sound like I'm complaining. So, for the record, this is not a big long complaining rant. This is just the story of my life for the past two months. And there is some usable information in here. I hear a lot of people say that they are going to move to the country and start living this life when they retire. Now that I'm "older," I can say that that is really not the best plan. Two years ago, I had no idea that my body was going to have all of the problems that it has started to have. I am so glad that we moved out here 13 years ago. I had a lot of great years doing things that I loved. I don't want it to end, and I'm doing everything I can do to figure out how to continue living this life. But had we only moved out here a couple of years ago, there would probably be a "for sale" sign out front by now. If I think of all the challenges we had the first few years simply because we were new to this life -- and if you added all of my current challenges to that -- it would have been a recipe for utter failure.

I don't usually give advice on this blog, but I'm getting older, so I figure I can throw out a little advice every now and then. So, my advice is that if you are still young and healthy, and if you read this blog wishing you were living this life, don't wait. Figure out how to do it now.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Spring on the homestead

The snow has melted, the grass is growing, and everything is blooming! Here are a few pictures from around the homestead ...

More goats are due to kid soon, and we put turkey eggs in the incubator on Saturday, which means we'll have poults in about four weeks!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Just Kidding ebook available

For those of you who like reading the goat birthing stories on here, I've created a collection of 17 kidding stories. In addition to the original birth stories, I also added commentary to each one. What went well? What would I have done differently? What would not have made a difference?

And if you ever wondered what happened when Coco gave birth two years ago, I finally tell the story in the book. If you've been reading my blog for that long, you might recall that she died of a ruptured uterus after giving birth to five kids. Actually we had to take her to the University vet hospital, and they pulled the last four kids there because they were quite tangled up. Although all five kids survived, Coco did not, and I was so upset, I was unable to write her birth story at the time. The book also includes the complete story of another goat that had birthing difficulties a few years ago.

I wrote the ebook because there are so many questions from new goat owners about what to expect when their goats give birth. The book includes several normal births, including those that are not textbook perfect but still not problematic. Those are the births that seem to confuse new people the most. And because everyone worries about the possibility of a caesarean section, I included stories of our two experiences.

The ebook is available in all formats, from a simple PDF to those that will work with a variety of ereaders from Kindle to Kobo. If you don't have an ereader, you can download a PDF or get the free Kindle reading app for your computer or iPad. The ebook is only $4.99 and is about 40 pages long. Click here to learn more and to order your copy.
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