Tuesday, December 26, 2006
I jumped up and said, "No! Who kidded? Are they dead?"
Margaret continued shaking her head from side to side and said, "Beauty. It was ice cold and still in the sack. There were two other ones, tiny skulls and legs."
I pulled on my coat, grabbed a plastic grocery bag, and headed for the barn. The fully developed one was a solid black buck. The other two were tiny. The heads were less than half the size of a normal kids, and the legs looked like toothpicks. They had clearly stopped developing a few weeks ago, perhaps a couple months. There was nothing we could do at that point. As we headed back to the house, I said, "At least the ground isn't frozen. We can bury them."
I thought about my comments the day before. "I want Christmas babies!" We had two goats due on December 25, and one due December 20. Surely someone was bound to kid on Christmas Day. I talked about naming them Holly and Ivy and St. Nick. I felt foolish for saying that I wanted Christmas babies. I said to the family, "I understand why people always just say they want healthy babies. I got what I thought I wanted -- Christmas babies -- but really I just want healthy babies."
Sunday, November 26, 2006
I've also learned that hernias in pigs are hereditary, so I wouldn't want to breed him -- except that he is a barrow (castrated male). Makes me wonder though if the gilt is related to him. If so, it might not be a good idea to keep her for breeding. I wouldn't want to have a bunch of piglets with hernias.
I've also learned a lot about castrating. Apparently if you're going to butcher a pig at six months, you really don't need to castrate him. They'll grow faster if they're not castrated, and they don't reach sexual maturity by then, so it doesn't affect the taste of the meat. So, I've decided that whenever we do decide to start raising our own piglets, we won't be castrating them. Makes no sense to put them through the misery of castration if it's unnecessary.
With the unseasonable weather we've been having (temps in the 60s!!!), we're getting a lot of work done outside. The yard and the barn are looking nice. Looks like we'll have a few more nice days, then the temperatures will be back below freezing.
My Thanksgiving break from school is ending, so tomorrow, it's back to class. Only three weeks to go, then I'll have a month off. Seed catalogs start to arrive after Christmas, and I can't wait to start planning the garden for next spring!
Friday, November 24, 2006
Well, my mama always said, "Never say never," and if someone had reminded me of that last Friday, I'd have said that she never grew a 43-pound turkey! Yesterday, when I took my first bite of that turkey, I knew my mama had been right. It was the most delicious turkey I'd ever had in my entire life -- including all the wonderful heritage turkeys we've been eating for the past four years. My oldest daughter was reading the newsletter of the American Livestock Breed Conservancy a couple of months ago, and it said that the reason heritage chickens are so tasty is because they're older. Chickens in the supermarket are all 6 to 10 weeks old, and they simply have not developed any flavor. They say the tastiest chickens (and I think I agree) are the older ones. Without a doubt, the old laying hens make the most delicious broth. Well, now I think I understand why the heritage turkeys always tasted the best to me -- they were seven or eight months old. We've always butchered the broad-breasted by about five months because they were getting so big, and they were always on the dry side and without much flavor. The turkey we had yesterday was delicious and tender without being mushy. It had so much broth cooking off of it (4+ cups!) that I used it in the stuffing and the gravy -- and yeah, it was the tastiest gravy and stuffing I've ever had also. Although I've always liked chicken better than turkey, this turkey was better than any chicken I've ever had. It's hard to believe how much basic knowledge has been lost in our culture. While we charge ahead at light speed developing faster computers and electronic equipment, our culture is losing basic information about good food.
Tonight we had turkey tetrazini for dinner, and it was the best I've ever had. I'm thinking that I really should remember my mother's advice to "Never say never." After eating such a delicious turkey, I do think we'll be raising them to seven months of age again next year.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Sunday, November 19, 2006
We arrived at the processing facility at 6:45 and were able to unload the turkeys right away. Then we went to breakfast at one of our favorite restaurants in the area, Yoder's Kitchen, which has Amish-sized portions of everything. The Amish eat lots of hearty food, but obesity is only 10% in their community (compared to 60% of overweight Americans) because they do so much manual labor. Shortly after 8:00 we left the restaurant and started visiting all our favorite Amish stores. Their grocery stores have the best bargains imaginable -- cheaper than any store I've seen including Wal-Mart and other discount stores. Also, they have things that you just don't see in other stores! They have half-gallon canning jars and salt petre, which I think is used for curing meats.
At the end of the day when we picked up the turkeys, I was shocked beyond description when I learned that we had a 37 pound and a 43 pound turkey! I knew the broad-breasted bronze turkeys were getting big, but that is just ridiculous. Someone asked me how we (the all-natural farmers) could grow something that big, and I replied that it's just genetics. Broad-breasted were raised to get big, although I was under the impression that they did not ever get THAT big! That's why I chose them rather than the broad-breasted whites, which are the modern commercial strain. I know the white ones can grow to 50-60 pounds. We've never had a bronze get that big before, but we've always bought them from other hatcheries. It is possible that Privett has a strain that gets bigger than normal.
You might recall that I decided to grow only slate turkeys as our heritage breed this year. That's because they're my favorite heritage breed, and they are still critically endangered. The bourbon reds have become quite popular, and there are a few thousand of them now. Slates are still virtually unknown. We kept a gobbler and two hens, and we're keeping them in a poultry tractor, which is a movable pen. (I know I'll need to post a picture.) This way, they will be safe from predators, and they can have fresh grass every day. When the hens hatch their babies, they'll also be safe from predators. Our free-range turkeys this year were not able to raise any of their babies to maturity, and I really want to raise our own turkeys! I don't like buying from the hatcheries because I'm not really increasing the population, although I am at least helping create a demand for the birds. It is also NOT sustainable to keep buying poults every year -- and we want to be sustainable.
Here's an interesting story ... when we were waiting for our turkeys at the processor, we met a couple who was also waiting for their turkeys. They had raised broad-breasted turkeys for many years, always buying them from hatcheries and butchering them every year. They were probably in their 60s, and the man said that he thought about keeping a pair or a trio this year so he could raise his own, but then at the last minute he decided to just butcher all of them again. I made a comment about how he'd have had to do artificial insemination to raise them -- he didn't know that. I find it amazing how little today's modern farmer knows about the simplest things -- like the fact that broad-breasted turkeys can't mate naturally. They have swallowed the factory farm lifestyle with all its associated craziness, and they don't know anything else. Do they not think about the fact that their information comes from big corporations who (like drug dealers) want to keep you buying from them year after year? Big Ag wants you to grow animals and crops that can't reproduce, from turkeys to corn and soybeans, so that every year you buy new baby turkeys or more corn to plant. And it seems that no one questions the idea that we should even try to develop a turkey or a plant that can't reproduce without human intervention. Of course, they just hear how much money they're going to make by growing these genetically modified lifeforms. There are farms that are sustainable and profitable, and I hope that more of them will move in that direction.
Falling off my soapbox now ...
Sunday, October 15, 2006
We had our first freeze this week. I told the girls to pick all the ripe peppers and tomatoes and a large amount of lettuce and mustard greens. They covered two rows of lettuce and mustard greens with floating row covers, and so far, everything is surviving. We are eating the lettuce that was picked prior to the freeze, but for some reason, it is turning brown rapidly. It normally lasts much longer than this. The 10-day forecast only shows a freezing temperature once, so we are hopeful that we'll have plenty of lettuce for quite some time still. There is simply nothing tastier than lettuce fresh from the garden!
Many of our meals now are completely homegrown. A couple weeks ago, we had company for dinner and served goat cheese appetizers with hot pepper jelly, a salad with homegrown lettuce, carrots and tomatoes, an entree of our turkey, potatoes, and mustard greens, and for dessert, apple crisp, using apples from our own trees. Last night, we had salad, pork roast with peppers and tomatoes, and apple crisp for dessert. Tonight we had salad and a chicken casserole made with our own chicken and goat milk. The spaghetti and mushrooms were store bought. For years, spring has been my favorite season because I love the beautiful flowers; however, fall is rapidly becoming a favorite because of all the homegrown food!
Monday, September 11, 2006
But, let me take a minute to introduce myself before I get into the story (which is a long one). I am Margaret, Deborah's eldest daughter who is taking a break from academia, and am currently the "farm manager." As such, I am home more often than not because I am the only one in the family not currently attending school of some sort.
This September 11, as did the one five years ago, started inauspiciously enough (other than the lightning and thunder that awoke us all at about 6:30 am). It was a typical, slow-moving farm day until Katherine (my younger sister) came into the house, panicked and dripping wet, because she could hear her baby goat across the creek screaming his head off. She was wet because the entirety of the middle and near pastures' low ends by the creek was covered in water 2 feet deep (some of it had temporarily trapped a few sheep). She was panicked because she could see one of the four bucks across the creek, and he was in water that covered most of his legs. Goats typically detest water, so we knew there was something seriously wrong... like their entire pen was flooded.
Our first step, was, of course, to use our heads. We knew the only way to cross the creek at this point was to swim, despite the frigid temperature. But the current would sweep us away before we could get very far, and I didn't want to take the chance that my baby sister would be floating away and there would be nothing I could do about it! So we found a rope (that my father claims is 50 ft long, although I wouldn't have guessed it was more than 25) and I fashioned a harness out of one end of it to attach to Katherine so that she could try to cross. She tried a couple of times before I told her I would try. So she gave me the harness and I started to try. My first brilliant deduction, after failed try #1, was that my shoes were too heavy. So off they went. My second (after failed try #2) was that my sweat pants were so waterlogged they were adding at least 10-20 pounds to my weight (or so it seemed). And they were history. My THIRD brilliant deduction was that it was ridiculous to think that I would be able to fight the current the entire way across, and would have to move a little upstream on the assumption that I would go a little ways downstream before making it across. Attempt number four was when I made it across, after having to discard the harness when I was a couple feet from land (but close enough that I would have run into bushes if I had lost the battle with the current).
At first I was very upset, because I was starting to doubt I had any brain cells left. What was I thinking, trying to swim across a creek that had practically become a river with all the extra waterfall? What could possibly be THAT important. However, as soon as I could see the bucks I knew that I could not have come soon enough. Although the one buck Katherine had seen had only had his legs in water, the littlest buck (Katherine's buck), Hammie, was almost completely covered in water, and still screaming. As soon as I picked him up I knew we didn't have much time. Not only was he freezing on the outside, but his body temperature was definitely in the mid-90s, if not lower. (Normal goat body temperatures are usually around 103 degrees Fahrenheit.) He was as limp as goats get, and was grinding his teeth in pain.
It was then that I realized I had no return plan. How was I supposed to make it across the creek holding onto a little buck when I had barely made it across by myself? As soon as I had realized the seriousness of Hammie's condition, I started shouting "What do we do?" across the creek to my sister, who, in her turn, shouted my words back to me. I started walking upstream, taking only a few seconds to look at the other bucks before focusing my attention back on Hammie. None of the others were in as bad a shape as he was; they, at least, could keep their bodies above water. I stopped walking when I reached some trees, trying to find a place where maybe I could grab onto different tree branches to pull myself across, but couldn't find a good spot. Instead, Katherine spent the next five minutes trying to toss the rope back across to me, but because we were both running on adrenaline and freezing from the water, never accomplished it. In the end, as Hammie's condition continued to worsen, I just waded in and swam across, holding Hammie's neck to keep his head above water and using my other three limbs to get us across. Luckily, because of the trees and branches just upstream of us, the current was much calmer than it had been where I had crossed originally and I was only swept about 15 feet downstream of where I started.
As soon as I climbed out of the water with Hammie (though I was still standing knee-deep in it, I was no longer swimming through it), everything hit me like a ton of bricks and it was all I could do to keep standing. But again, because I knew Hammie was in bad shape, I kept going and made it through another 200 ft of knee-deep water, up a hill, through the barn and back to the house to try to breathe life (not literally) back into the freezing goat. I won't bore everyone with the details. It would suffice to say that it took us about 20 minutes before we were convinced his condition was stable enough to go back for the others. (We also changed into our swimsuits at this time, since it was clear we were going to get soaked anyway.)
This time we went right back upstream to where the trees were, where we knew that the current was not as bad. During the time we spent untangling and untying the rope, we were introduced to all of the wonderful (note the sarcasm) bugs and spiders who were trying to survive by climbing onto anything that was above the water level, including us. I did not know that praying mantises were in Illinois, but I saw one! In addition to all the scary-looking spiders (Katherine assures me they are harmless) and orange-colored ants (though those might have been fire ants), there were numerous worms and caterpillars clinging to life.
We tied one end of the rope to a post, and I swam across with the other end to tie it to a tree - it was barely long enough. I got one of the goats, and did the same thing as I had with Hammie, except this time I was kicking with my legs, holding the goat up with one hand and holding onto the rope with the other. The main purpose of the rope was to keep me from going too far downstream. Unfortunately, the second time my legs got tangled up in a bush that was covered in needle-like stickers, so I got rather scratched up and accidentally dunked one of the goats. Meanwhile, each time I brought a goat across and handed it to Katherine, she would run across the middle pasture and up the hill to the barn pasture to deposit said goat in the dry area before turning around and coming straight back. The first time she did this, she saw that I was already waiting to swim across with the next goat and started running, only to trip and go flying headfirst into the water!
The third time across was definitely the hardest, for two reasons: one, the goat I had was 60 pounds (I know because I weighed him last week); two, I had detached the rope from the tree, and Katherine was pulling me across. I was doing fine until about halfway across, when I realized that I could not hold both my head and the goat's head above the water. Since I couldn't tell the goat to hold his breath, I took a deep breath and went down. Unfortunately, of course, I could not communicate this to Katherine, so she had a few panicked seconds when all she could see was Hercules, and no me! (She didn't see that I was the only thing holding his head above water.)
By the time we got the goats settled and inside the barn with a heat lamp, and Katherine and I went inside, Katherine was still very worried about Hammie and trying to decide what to do next. Although it had never really left my mind, I knew that we were risking hypothermia and told Katherine that we'd done enough for him for now and that if she didn't want to spend the next week in bed we needed to take care of ourselves NOW. We took quick showers to get all of the creek water and twigs and muck out of our hair and got into a very warm tub, where we soaked for at least half an hour to try to warm up our innards, much in the same way we had soaked Hammie (one of the things I didn't bore you with earlier). We had both noticed that although we didn't feel cold on the outside (strange, since the water had been so cold), it seemed as though our very bones were exuding coldness. After getting out of the tub we both dressed from the tips of our toes on up, covering every spare inch. We put our hair up so that we could release body heat through the back of our necks, but wore long sleeves, thick socks, and two layers wherever we could.
And then we got back to work. I still had dinner to make, after all. (Homemade pizza with dough made from scratch, without a breadmaker, if you were wondering! Katherine also made fried okra.)
It was the longest two hours of my life, but also the most exhilerating. I guess adrenaline can do that!
Hammie is doing much better. After six hours he is finally standing again, though he still looks droopy. He will be staying in the house tonight. All of the other bucks (of which there are three) are in much better shape, dry and well-fed in the barn. I don't know what you did on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, but ours was certainly one to remember!
Saturday, September 2, 2006
Today I canned seven pints of salsa and seven half-pints of hot pepper jelly.
Last weekend, I also made three loaves of soap and a batch of goat cheese. I need to make more of both this weekend. I am so happy that Monday is a holiday. I can certainly use these three days to catch up! We are getting a bumper crop of okra this year, so I'm hoping to can some pickled okra before the weekend is over. I also need to can more salsa and hot pepper marmalade, which is similar to the jelly, but it's chunkier.
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
To add to the confusion, I am starting grad school tomorrow. Sounds crazy, I know, but I am going to work towards a masters degree in communications. Margaret is taking over as farm manager, but of course, I'll still live here, even though my day-to-day involvement will be lessened. I've started a new blog, Mom On Campus, to talk about the challenges of returning to the classroom after a 21-year hiatus -- not to mention the added challenges of having three teenagers and living on a homestead.
Of course, Margaret and I are thrilled to have everyone home. We missed them, and the vacation seems to have done them some good. They seem more energetic and happier. They have even been following Margaret's new schedule without complaining. This morning we worked on cleaning the barn. Does it sound like we spend a lot of time cleaning the barn? It seems like we do! Well, if you think a house gets dirty fast, just imagine having chickens and goats running through your house. It seems nearly impossible to keep the barn clean. Forget clean -- that makes me sound like I have some sort of mental disorder. Our goal is just to be able to find things fairly quickly without stepping on rotten eggs or tripping over used baling twine. Last night, when I was looking for something, I stepped on yet another rotten egg that had been hidden (by a hen, of course) in the straw on the floor. That was the second one this week, and there really is nothing that stinks as much as a rotten egg. Where do those eggs come from? They come from hens who refuse to believe that the chicken house is their home, even though that's where the chicken feed has been for the past year since we built the new chicken house. They insist on hanging out in the barn and continuing to lay eggs here, although since there are no longer any nest boxes, they just lay them in some out-of-the-way place where no one will find them until they rot, and then one day ...
Anyway, they'll be cleaning the barn again tomorrow and the next day. The goal for this week is to get the barn completely cleaned out ... get out all the old straw and hay, all the old eggs, all the used baling twine, all the scraps of lumber, etc. I'll be settling into my new life as a graduate student and teaching assistant. Of course, I'll keep blogging on here, because life goes on whether I'm here all day or not.
Saturday, August 5, 2006
When they first left, we were pretty excited. We spent the first couple days working around the house like crazy. We cleaned the first floor, and it looked lovely. We began eating on china at every meal and using the crystal glasses. With only two to wash, it didn't seem like such a big deal. We did all the chores outside, and we started working on projects inside. In between battling the Japanese beetles, we picked peaches, made peach preserves and peach butter. Two days ago, I created a dessert that is "to die for!" It has a graham cracker crust, cheesecake lower layer, and peach pie filling upper layer with graham crackers crumbled on top! Of course, it is made with our very own goat cheese and fresh peaches. It is delicious!
The heat wave created the biggest challenge for us. To deal with the nearly 100 degree days, we started getting up at 5 a.m., so we could have all the chores done and be inside by 8, before the heat got too unbearable. Tuesday, we wound up outside until 9:25. We had some problems with chores, and then at 9 a.m., I noticed that a duck had hatched two ducklings and was headed to the pond with them. We had to stop her! There are snapping turtles in the pond, and the ducklings wouldn't have a chance. We ran around in the heat for 20 minutes trying to catch her, but we finally admitted defeat.
I had felt a headache coming on for about an hour, but I kept ignoring it. We went inside, and the headache intensified, and I got really sleepy. Then I started to feel nauseous. I decided to lay down, and that is where I stayed for two days! I must have been suffering from heat stroke. I felt quite hot, and by afternoon, when I was still in bed, Margaret started researching heat stroke on the Web. She put ice packs under my armpits and got me drinking more. Sometimes my head hurt so badly, tears were running down my cheeks. I was so dizzy, I could barely walk to the bathroom and back to bed.
Our two weeks of girl time will end tonight. We loved working together, and there were times, we agreed it was easier with just the two of us. We are definitely the two most organized members of the family! But we also agreed that we should never again leave two people here to do all the work in the summer. It's not much when it's split between five people, but when it's split between two people, the work load gets pretty heavy. And for two days, Margaret was doing everything by herself, which was really challenging. I can already see the face of Antiquity Oaks changing a lot when all the kids are grown and go away! I can see why farm families have traditionally been so large. There is just no way Mike and I could continue raising all these animals by ourselves! In another five or six years, I think we'll be downsizing to a few laying hens and four or five goats for milk.
Monday, July 31, 2006
Yesterday, we picked peaches in the morning also. Then in the afternoon, we canned peach preserves and peach butter. I've never had peach butter before, but it is delicious! We barely made a dent in the peaches, so we plan to make more peach butter tomorrow. This afternoon, my indoor job was making cheese.
Still no tomatoes, but we are getting quite a few banana peppers. I'll have enough of those to can soon. I have no idea what happened to my zucchini. It was doing so beautifully, and then the leaves started to turn brown, and it's dieing.
Time to get to bed now!
Thursday, July 27, 2006
We appear to be winning the battle against the Japanese beetles. We think we are having such good luck because we are capturing them without the use of lures -- which attracts them. We are simply waiting with our little sandwich baggies, and when they land on the peach trees, we tap them gently, causing them to fall into the bag. Also, I am not removing the damaged fruit (contrary to the gospel that all spoiled fruit should be removed, lest it attract more bugs). I figure it makes it easier for me to find the new beetles, and I'm really hoping they go for a fruit that is already damaged, rather than starting to nibble on an uninjured peach. The baggie has fewer and fewer bugs in it every day!
Monday, July 24, 2006
Our biggest news is that we have begun the battle with the Japanese beetles. Two days ago we noticed they were on our peach trees. When we went berry picking in the woods two weeks ago, we saw them on some of the wild rose bushes. I had hoped they would stay in the woods, but I guess the scent of ripening peaches was just too tempting. Luckily I went out to the peach trees two days ago to see if they were ripe. They are looking so big and red! We picked half the peaches, hoping they'd continue to ripen in the kitchen. The other half are still on the tree, and we're hoping the beetles won't get them all.
In the first battle of the war, we pulled the beetles off the trees and killed them. Yuck! Then we realized they were very slow flyers, and they usually fall down rather than fly away. Sometimes in mid-fall, they'll start to fly, but they almost never fly off the peach or the leaf when you disturb them. So, in the second phase of the battle, we are taking plastic baggies out there, holding the bag open under the beetle, and tapping the beetle so it falls into the bag! Works wonderfully, but it's time consuming.
Trying to do things organically doesn't leave us a lot of options. Because all the stores around here are sold out of beetle traps, we bought a replacement lure and put it into a yellow jacket trap. We were hoping it would work the same way. What we discovered is that the beetles swarmed around the bottle but didn't go into it hardly at all. After seeing hundreds of them on the jar and the picnic table where we sat the jar (didn't want it near the peach trees!), I decided to go put the jar next to the turkey pen yesterday afternoon. The turkeys feasted on Japanese beetles as the bugs swarmed around them. I started to worry that they'd explode! But it's a cheap form of protein, and the turkeys sure looked happy.
Last night, I was so excited to find only a few beetles on the peach trees. I decided to go check the apple trees, and as I started to walk across the front lawn, I realized the beetles had invaded the hedge out front! I took my plastic baggie and started catching them. Can you imagine a sandwich bag half full of beetles? That's how many I had! (Oh, yeah, I should also mention that they can't seem to fly out of the bag either. I think they have trouble flying straight up.) Luckily, there are no beetles on the pear trees, but there are signs of beetle damage to the very tops of the apple trees. So far, the apples are untouched. I think I need to get some of this kaolin clay that someone told me about. Supposedly makes the fruit unpalatable for the beetles.
This morning, I only found five beetles on the peach trees, so I am hopeful that our current battle plan is working!
Monday, July 10, 2006
Finally! Here is a picture of our newest, sweetest baby girl!
This is Odette's baby, born June 28. We've decided to name her after the ballet Giselle. Like her mama and her Grandma Dancy, she is the friendliest goat imaginable. She runs up to us whenever she sees us, and if we're holding her, she couldn't be happier. If we're out in the pasture, she even follows us sometimes instead of her mother -- not that we encourage such behavior, but it just shows you how friendly she is. She definitely got her grandma's personality!
I'm keeping busy with daily gardening chores, cheesemaking, cleaning (house and barn), and contemplating what to do with mean rabbits.
Friday, July 7, 2006
After lunch, she left to visit a nearby alpaca farm, and Mike and I went into the woods for gooseberry picking. We have a 5-cup bucket about 4/5 full. Tomorrow, we'll be having gooseberry muffins for breakfast. They are delicious -- somewhere between the taste of raspberry and blueberry. The wild raspberries aren't quite ready yet, but we nibbled on a few early ones as we made our way through the woods. We also discovered an unusual tree in the woods, and Mike's research online showed us that it is a cucumbertree! I didn't know such a tree existed, but the pictures match up.
Now, about the sheep milking ... A few days ago I got the bright idea that we could milk our Shetland sheep. I noticed one of the sheep had a very impressive looking udder -- at least as good as some of our goats. So, I convinced Margaret to milk her. Since catching sheep is not easy, we decided to put her in a smaller pen, but then she got lonely, so I decided she needed a friend, whom we could also milk (since her babies are two months old already). Well, now I know why no one milks their Shetland sheep. It took us four days to get a quart of milk from the two of them! Margaret said she loves milking them because they have very soft, easily milked udders, but the quantity is quite small. Now I also understand why their babies don't nurse as long as the goats. Some people say the ewes wean their lambs, but now I think the lambs just give up around two to three months of age. It's just easier to drink water and eat grass than to chase down the mama for a sip of milk -- and I do mean a "sip" because that's all the sheep have at this point. So, Shetland sheep are not dairy animals. I am hoping the Icelandic ewe proves to be more productive when she freshens next spring.
The top picture for today is Carmen, the goat who won grand in the show two weekends ago. I had posted a picture of her in the show ring and a picture of her as a baby, but then I realized I didn't have any pictures of her beautiful, sweet face. Katherine took this picture for me a few days ago.
The goose is one of the goslings that arrived on Antiquity Oaks slightly more than three months ago. I can't believe how fast they grow!
Thursday, July 6, 2006
We did well at the show this past weekend. Our senior doe, Scandal, won grand champion in both rings, and our buck, John Adams, won grand in both rings. Our junior does, however, were almost always at the end of the line-up (meaning last places).
Now, there must be something wrong with Blogger, because I've tried five or six different pictures and different ways to post pictures, and it's not letting me do it! Grrr ... will try again later!
Sunday, July 2, 2006
When we got home, we discovered a turkey hen had hatched eight poults. They are now running around the farm and are adorable. I'm hoping the mama turkey can keep track of them all.
I'll try to get some pictures up later today ... goats, baby turkeys, etc.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Sorry, but the only picture they got of her face was this one -- she must have been about three minutes old and is still quite wet.
This is Odette's first freshening, meaning she's a first-time mom. Her udder is quite impressive, so we think she's going to rival big sister Carmen in the show ring. Unfortunately, there aren't many shows left this year, but that's okay. I'm sure she'll do even better next year. Margaret suggested showing her this weekend, but there's no way I'd show her only three days after she's given birth. She needs time to rest, relax and get to know her baby. Most mama goats make the motherhood thing look so easy.
Names ... Odette is named after a character in the ballet Swan Lake, so we're going to name all her babies after ballets and ballet characters. So far, the only thing I've thought about is Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutracker. Any other ideas?
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Did you ever wake up one morning and say, "Oh, no! What have I done?" I've been feeling like that all day today! Last week, I was obsessing over the kids in my writing classes, and I was thinking about the farm show on Saturday and the goat show on Sunday, so I had absolutely no time at all to think about what was coming next. What's next? This weekend, we are sponsoring our first goat show. I only attended my first goat show two years ago, so I'm kind of wondering how I wound up actually sponsoring a goat show now! (Yeah, right ... how did I ever wind up on a farm after a lifetime of living in the suburbs?)
Sponsoring a goat show is kind of like throwing a huge party combined with a serious meeting. There is serious stuff to be done, but you're hoping that everyone has a really good time. We have over 50 goats pre-registered, so we're hoping to at least break even financially.
I have a friend coming from Chicago who will be helping, and he'll be staying with us. A goat breeder will also be staying at our place, so that's two house guests arriving on Friday. Mike has been working hard to get Jonathan's bedroom finished, so that the guest room can finally be a guest room. One guest will get the guest room, and the other will get the media room in the basement. It's not completely done, but there is a futon in there, and it's pretty private. No one will have to sleep on the couch!
To do list for this week: Clean the house, move Jonathan out of guest room, clean guest room, clean the barn, clean the yard, mow the yard, pick up friend at train station Friday, pick up judge at O'Hare on Friday ... I know there's more!
Today's picture was taken by another goat breeder at the show on Saturday when Carmen was named grand champion. If she wins grand two more times, she'll be a permanent champion, so in theory, she could be a champion by the end of the weekend, but I'm not holding my breath. Judges have their own preferences, even though it's supposed to be totally based on the scorecard. Even if Carmen doesn't ever become a permanent grand champion, she'll always be my little baby, and she'll always live here on Antiquity Oaks.
Monday, June 26, 2006
It started last week, actually -- the "busy" thing. I spent the last two weeks teaching two writing classes for middle school. The creative writing class was wonderful. It included 10 kids who loved to write and wanted to be there. The writing fundamentals class was a nightmare. It included 14 kids who hated to write and didn't want to be there. You can probaly figure out the rest! I'm so glad I homeschool, and so are my children. When I was telling them about the antics of the kids who hated to write, they didn't find the actions humorous, and they were glad they don't spend five days a week witnessing such behavior.
Saturday, we were at an historic farm helping to celebrate 1860s Day. I was dressed up in my 1860s work dress, and I did a couple of soapmaking demonstrations during the day. We sold a lot of soap and yarn. My daughter had been invited to spin, but she was at a goat show. The day was pretty hot. Temps were in the 80s, but there was an occasional wind that helped make it feel better. I am amazed that I'm really not any hotter in five layers of clothing than in modern clothes. Yeah, I was wearing five layers ... drawers, half slip, chemise, dress (lined bodice), and apron.
Margaret called me around noon to let me know that one of our goats, Carmen, won grand champion senior doe! I was especially excited because she was born on our farm.
Sunday, I went to the goat show and joined my daughters. Although Carmen didn't win that day, her daughter won grand champion junior doe! We were at least as excited about Lizzie winning as we had been about Carmen winning the day before.
Today's picture was actually taken more than two years ago when Carmen was born. She almost died at birth, and she wound up being our first house goat. She was spoiled rotten and hardly knew she was a goat. I wound up keeping her for sentimental reasons, thinking she'd be a runty little thing forever, but she grew into a beautiful doe! As I was looking for pictures, I realized we haven't taken any this year. We certainly need to remedy that situation now!
Monday, June 19, 2006
When we first moved here four years ago, it was desolate in spite of the grass and centuries-old trees. There were frogs croaking in the pond, but nothing else. There were squirrels scampering about, but few other wild animals. I guess we must be doing something right, because in the past year, I have seen more wild animals than I ever knew existed in Illinois.
A few days ago, I spotted a turquoise bird clinging to a cattail by the pond. I've seen so many different colored birds recently. We are now frequently visited by Canada geese, egrets and wild ducks. I've seen blue jays, robins, cardinals, woodpeckers of different varieties and black birds with yellow wings and red wings. I saw a yellow bird not very long ago.
This evening as I was eating dinner, I looked out onto the pond and thought to myself, if I were suddenly paralyzed and unable to walk, I'd want to spend all my time in front of those big glass doors. I'd want a sketchpad or canvas and paints to record what I saw. The scene on the pond changes from one minute to the next, but it is always beautiful and always entertaining. There just aren't many places where you could always be guaranteed a view like that.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Tonight's dinner came at a great time ... just when I was feeling that we couldn't do anything right.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
My oldest daughter and I took the chickens down there last week. While there, we had to fill the truck with gas. Suddenly it dawned on us that it had cost us $1.50 for each chicken to drive them down there! That's a huge chunk of profit out of chickens that are being sold for $3.25 a pound for whole or $3.50 per pound for cut-up. Heritage chickens don't weigh as much as commercial breeds. These averaged 2.5 to 3 pounds each. The purchase cost of the roosters as day-old chicks was $1.39 + processing cost of $2.50 per chicken + the gasoline = more than $7 per chicken before the cost of feed! (And no, that does not even include anything for labor, so we worked for free all these months raising the chickens.) Since these chickens ate a lot over the four months it took to grow this big, we were really depressed for the whole drive home. It wasn't this bad a few years ago. We weren't buying specific breeds. If you are willing to take whatever heritage breed the hatchery has left over, they can be as cheap as 40 cents each. The cost of gasoline has doubled in the past four years, and the cost of processing has increased by $1 per bird.
Commercial chickens grow to this size in only six to seven weeks, so how can we possibly compete? Forget competing! How can we possibly make a profit with slow-growing chickens? We obviously cannot take them to the processor unless we have at least 100 at a time. That would cut the cost per bird to around 50 cents per bird for transportation. If we could process the birds on the farm, we could eliminate the entire transportation cost and the processing cost. If we didn't buy chicks from a hatchery, that would save even more. Right now we only have a few new chickens raised on the farm each year because our hens don't set that much. We'd have to use an incubator for hatching eggs if we wanted to raise a lot. Then half the chicks would be hens, so we couldn't hatch 500 chicks unless we wanted 250 new laying hens every year. (Hens are even smaller than roosters, so aren't really practical for butchering when they're young.) Processing chickens on the farm is not practical since it takes us 45 minutes to butcher a single chicken. It would have taken us days to process 28. Plucking is what takes so much time, and a mechanical plucker costs close to a thousand dollars, which we can't afford.
I can understand why our customers say they can't find products like ours anywhere else -- no one can stay in business doing what we're doing. So, what do we do? Obviously, we need capital to buy a commercial incubator and a mechnical plucker. We'd also need a commercial kitchen to process the chickens. We're researching incorporating as an S-corporation, an LLC or a not-for-profit. I was surprised to learn that agricultural business in Illinois can be not-for-profit. I guess they know how little small farms can make. If we incorporate, we can sell stock. If we become a not-for-profit, people can buy memberships. There is a lot to research and a lot to consider, but one thing we're discovering is that the farm of the 1800s cannot survive in the 21st century.
Monday, June 12, 2006
Saturday was a typical farm day in so many ways. First, we weren't able to do all the outside chores we wanted due to rain. It poured all day long. So, we did mostly inside stuff, continuing to work on our house. We also had company -- a couple of friends from Chicago who wanted to help with farm work. The rain outside changed it into a social day for us. Then around six in the evening, Mike came inside, and I knew from the look on his face that something bad had happened. Someone had run over two of our young geese. One of the buff geese and one of the white embden geese had been killed while crossing the road. We live on a gravel road. No one should be driving faster than about 30 miles per hour, and most people drive much slower past our place because they enjoy watching the animals. Many people slow to a crawl or even stop so they can get a closer look at the animals. It's rare to have an animal killed by a passing car. Over the past four years, we've lost two chickens to passing traffic, so it was a shock to loose two geese at once.
Knowing that they would have been worth $100 each at maturity, it was depressing on two levels to see them dead. Knowing that these geese had not been dead very long, it was not hard to decide that we needed to butcher them. At least we'd get something out of it. We realized quickly that the buff was not fit for human consumption because the body had been destroyed, so Mike just cut off some breast meat for the dogs. The other goose did not look like it was too badly damaged. There was a tire track across one wing, but it otherwise didn't appear too messy. As Mike worked on plucking, however, he realized one of the thighs was broken. He also learned that it's true what they say about plucking waterfowl -- it's hard! He spent three to four hours plucking. Then when he cut open the body to remove the intestines, he came upon the sad realization that the internal organs were destroyed. So after all those hours of plucking, he realized we could not use more than the breast meat and legs.
I've never cooked goose before, so I looked up goose recipes on the Internet. Currently, the legs are marinating in red wine, and the breast meat is marinating in buttermilk. Tomorrow, we'll cook them.
Friday, June 9, 2006
The challenge then becomes getting the hay cut and baled when it is not raining. If you cut hay and it rains, the hay can mold, making it unsuitable for animal feed. We have another farmer cut the hay because we don't have the equipment. He was going to cut it two Mondays ago, but it started raining then, and it rained for six days! Sunday was finally sunny, and the forecast showed sun, so that's when he cut it. Today he baled it, and that's when our work begins! We had to clear a space in the barn to hold all 177 bales! Mike and the girls did the stacking, which is the messiest, sweatiest, dirtiest job on the farm. Stacking grass hay (which this is) is much better than stacking alfalfa hay, because alfalfa has little leaves that can fall off and stick to your sweat ... and itch.
The baby ducklings are doing well. They don't like staying in a cage. They want to follow just about every animal they see, including a barn cat! It reminds us of the children's book, "Are You My Mother?" They have no idea who their mother is!
Today was very busy before the hay was even cut. We moved the bucks back from across the creek. With the grass being so tall on this side of the creek, there is no reason to keep the grass trimmed around the electric fences across the creek. (Tall grass on electric fence will make it short out -- not work.) It's enough of a time-consuming job to keep the fencelines clean on this side of the creek.
After moving the bucks into one of the pens in the barn pasture, we moved all 24 sheep to a new pasture. That was easier than we expected, but Monet was very intimidating. Katherine and I have both been rammed by him, and at one point I foolishly turned my back. Margaret and Katherine both screamed, "Mom!" when they saw him put his head down and start running towards me. I screamed and jumped and turned around and stared him down. I don't think he really likes to ram people when they're looking. He's always done sneak attacks.
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
Earlier today I signed on to post a story about a chicken hen who'd adopted baby ducks, but Blogger was down. Now, I'm posting about baby ducks that we've adopted! There was a duck setting in the barn, and apparently her eggs hatched within the last 24 hours. Today, Katherine discovered a speckled sussex chicken hen being mama to the seven ducklings. This afternoon she went to check on them, and all seven babies were wandering through the grass of the near pasture with no mama in sight. She picked them up and put them in a box for the moment. She is now working on creating a brooder for them.
Brooder sounds so high tech. It's nothing more than a safe place for the babies to stay, and there is a heat lamp to keep them warm. I swore I would never again raise baby ducks in a brooder, because they were the messiest birds we ever raised. We bought 15 ducklings four years ago, and within a few days, I was counting the minutes until one month had expired. Brooder-raised ducklings can't go into the water before they're a month old. They are not producing their own oil prior to that time. If they are being raised by a mama, her oil rubs off on them, and they can swim safely without getting hypothermia.
Monday, May 29, 2006
After his parents left with the mulcher, another storm came through and knocked a few more branches out of trees. I wish we could afford a mulcher.
Never got around to making mozarella today, but we did make peppermint ice cream. This was just an ice cream kind of day.
More storms are in the forecast .... as well as lower temperatures, which are quite welcome!
Sunday, May 28, 2006
We've been so busy. Yesterday, I planted several packets of squash and zucchini. Mike planted more potatoes. He spent most of the past two days either staining or applying polyurethane to our windows. Yes, that should have been done when the windows were installed a year and a half ago. Some are definitely showing signs of being unprotected all this time, but hopefully there won't be any true, lasting damage that will affect their usefulness over the next few decades.
Remember those turkey hens I mentioned a few weeks ago? The two that had nests on top of the storeroom in the barn? Well, they have exactly one poult left between them. A couple of chicken hens hatched a brood around the same time, and they still have all nine chicks left. Chickens definitely win the prize for being the best mothers, but I've known that for quite some time already.
Mike has also spent quite a bit of time in the past two days cutting up the 200-year-old hickory tree that was knocked down by the storm on Wednesday. He has most of the smaller branches cut off now. His father will be bringing over the mulcher on Monday, so we can mulch them. The large parts will become firewood, and that will require a chainsaw and more time.
Last Sunday I completely sold out of soap made with fragrance oils. I should have remembered that the people who go to Garfield Farm like the fragrance oils more than the essential oils. So, I've started making more soap. I made a batch of sandalwood two days ago. I also made cheese a couple days ago -- fromage blanc this time. My buttermilk making has slowed to once every few days because I decided to start making a half gallon at a time, rather than just a quart. I make either buttermilk pancakes or buttermilk biscuits at least five mornings a week, and a couple times a week for dinner, I've starting making cornbread with buttermilk, which is the most delicious I've ever tasted.
Margaret and I will be making mozarella tomorrow. My history with mozarella is a long, sad one. The first time I made it, it turned out perfectly. It went downhill after that. It has never been quite right since then. There are several different methods used to make mozarella, so we have decided to attempt the citric acid method tomorrow. I hope it works, because if we are to ever reach our goal of self-sufficiency, we have to be able to make our own mozarella -- because we love pizza and lasagna.
Here's another little tidbit about an experiment we've been trying ... living without paper towels. I realized that we were spending about $20 a month on paper towels, which is a tad ridiculous. So, when we ran out, I announced to the family that I wouldn't be buying any more. You can imagine the response I received. "You can't live without paper towels!" Well, you can. It's been a few weeks, and we've managed to do just fine. If something gets spilled on the floor, I use a dish cloth, then throw it in the laundry right away. For draining fried foods, I use a clean dish towel. One of my daughters asked, "You aren't going to stop buying toilet paper are you?" No, toilet paper has a permanent place in our home.
The temperature climbed into the 90s yesterday, which is quite unseasonably warm for us. The forecast is more of the same today. We are planning to work in the basement this afternoon when the temps get too high. (We didn't put A/C in our house because there isn't an energy efficient A/C unit available. They're all power guzzlers, and our ultimate goal is to have a solar-powered house.) Normally, our plan for hot weather is to have the whole house fan on at night to pull the cold air in from outside -- normally, it gets down into the 70s or even 60s at night all summer long, so we're usually freezing at night. Then in the morning, when the temperature gets above 70, we close all the windows. With our super-insulated house, this works really well for all but the hottest days -- meaning 100 degrees. We do have ceiling fans, which make it seem cooler than it would otherwise. For days that will go above 90 outside, we have the smallest available window unit for each floor -- it's the type of unit that is supposed to cool a 10X10 room, but it is enough to maintain temps in the 70-80 degree range in the 1,000-square feet on each level, and we don't use the upstairs unit during the day, because there are only bedrooms up there. At the moment, our normal plan doesn't work because we don't have windows in all the windows. Mike removed the glass parts of several windows to make it easier to stain and finish. So, this afternoon we are going to retreat to the coolness of the basement where we'll work on organizing it in preparation for putting up more walls down there. (In other words, we have to get the junk out of the way so we can work down there.)
Today's picture was taken by Katherine a few days ago when it was raining. When we first moved here, there was no wildlife around the pond. I guess we're doing something right because now we get frequent visits from blue herons, egrets and Canada geese, as well as a variety of wild ducks that we always scramble to identify with our birdwatching book.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
As I'm writing this, I hear the hum of a Shopvac and a hair dryer in the basement. We had a dreadful storm yesterday. It looks like a tornado probably came very close to touching down. For 1/3 of a mile, trees and telephone poles are snapped, and electrical wires are broken. This very old and large tree in our front yard broke off above the first branch. Clean-up will not be quick or easy.
We realized none of the electric fences were working last night, so we brought all the goats into the barn and hoped the coyotes would leave the sheep alone.
I borrowed a generator from a friend, but they didn't have gasoline for it, and we couldn't find a gas station open that had the right kind of gasoline for it. The sump pit was a couple inches from the top when we went to bed, hoping it wouldn't rise any more. Apparently, another storm came through during the night because we found another branch down in the front yard, and the basement had standing water in it this morning. Mike has been in the basement all morning cleaning up the mess. We buy food in bulk, such as beans, and I have about 20 pounds of lentils sitting on the table drying out now. At least, I hope they'll dry out. I have a huge pot cooking on the stove, so at least we'll be able to use those if the rest of them rot.
I am feeling exhausted, more mentally than physically. I keep reminding myself that we're all okay, and that's what's important, but I'm feeling beaten. There is so much work to be done.
Friday, May 19, 2006
Many of our city friends think that since we now live on the farm, we always get up at the crack of dawn, and I can't help but chuckle when they say so. It is the American icon of the farmer walking out to the barn with the sun barely peaking over the horizon, but we haven't figured out a reason that we need to get up that early every day. I can understand why dairy farmers did that 100 years ago. Their milk was delivered fresh to homes every morning in time for breakfast, so the cows had to be milked early in the morning. The important thing about milking though, is that you do it every 12 hours. Our goats don't care if we milk them at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. or 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. -- as long as they don't have to wait more than 12 hours between milkings. If we are running late in the evening, they walk up to the fence and start yelling at us to hurry up.
I couldn't fall back asleep this morning, because we have a very busy weekend coming up. This afternoon we leave for a goat show that is being held two hours away on Saturday and Sunday. Last year, we left home at 5 a.m., meaning we did get up at 4 a.m. that morning, so we wouldn't be late checking in for the show. This year, we've been saying that we're going to go on Friday so that we can sleep late. I have my doubts about sleeping though, because we would be sleeping in the barn with the goats, and the nightly lows have been in the 40s. I know I can't sleep when it's that cold, so we need to discuss a Plan B!
On Sunday, my daughter will stay at the goat show and continue to show the goats, while my husband and I will go to the Garfield Farm Rare Breed Show in LaFox, Illinois. It is always a lot of fun, and it reminds me of where I first got the crazy idea of moving out to the country to raise rare breeds of livestock. I was a reporter at the Kane County Chronicle when I first attended the show in 1999. I was completely enamored with the livestock I saw there, and I wanted to do something to make sure these very useful animals continued to live on this planet. Since factory farms use only one breed of animal for a particular purpose -- the white leghorn chicken for egg production, for example (because they produce the most eggs on the least feed), or a Cornish-Rock cross for meat production (because they grow the fastest) -- it leaves hundreds of other breeds to slowly die out. The beauty of heritage chickens is that they grow at a moderate rate, and they are good egg layers. I could write about this all day, but if you want to know more, check out Garfield's Web site and especially the page on the Rare Breed Show.
I've already made chocolate chip muffins and the timer just went off for the bran muffins. Now it's time to wake up the kids and get to the regular chores on the homestead today. Yesterday, Margaret clipped 10 goats for the upcoming show. She has another 11 to go!
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
When the rain finally stopped, we continued stalking the little lamb for about 10 minutes, but when the sky started to look threatening again, I told Margaret I was headed to the house! Between the barn and the house, I saw two turkey hens attacking one of the goslings, so I ran to the chicken house to rescue it, and just as I turned towards the house again, the rain began to pour. Yes, Margaret was still out in the far pasture trying to catch that little lamb to determine if it was a he or a she!
About 20 minutes later, Margaret came inside to give us the news that it was a ewe lamb! Sorry we don't have any pictures yes. The weather has not been cooperating. It is pure white, so it looks a lot like the little ewe lamb that was born a month ago to Fee's daughter. We are beginning to wonder if any ewe in this line can throw anything other than a white ewe!
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Earlier today, a family came by to pick up a goat that is to be a Mother's Day gift. Normally I don't like to sell goats as gifts-- how do you know that someone really wants a pet goat? But I know this one is going to a good home where it is wanted because this is a repeat customer.
I am making buttermilk almost every day lately. We've been eating buttermilk pancakes and buttermilk biscuits at least every other day. They are so good! Making buttermilk is easier than making yogurt, and I didn't think anything could be easier than yogurt.
The cheesecake in the picture was taken to a potluck yesterday. One woman said it was the best cheesecake she'd ever had, although it didn't taste like any cheesecake she'd ever had before. When I told her it was made with goat cheese, she paused with her fork in mid-air and then with even more surprise in her voice, she repeated, "This is really good!"
Friday, May 12, 2006
Katherine came in this morning to tell me that six slate poults (baby turkeys) are dead this morning. That bring the total to around 20-something, which is half the number we started with. They cost $8 each, and with half of them dead, that means they effectively cost $16 each. Add $5 processing cost to each one, and they cost $21 each before they've even eaten one bite -- and turkeys eat a lot. Over the next six months, they'll eat hundreds of dollars of feed.
This morning's poults died as a result of either getting too cold or suffocating. People argue about whether or not they're dumb -- and we're rather inclined to agree that they are not the brightest birds. We have a brooder that's open on the bottom. Baby chicks come and go as they feel warm or cold. This gives them room to run around outside if they want -- and if they're feeling warm enough. Maybe baby turkeys aren't smart enough for this system. Overnight a bunch of turkeys had left the warmth of the brooder and huddled into the corner of the stall where the brooder is located. This morning, my daughter found six dead ones in the corner. Apparently, at some point last night, they ran out into the stall, and when they got cold, they huddled in a corner rather than running back under the brooder. This has worked quite well since they arrived last month. Why did they suddenly forget where to go for warmth last night?
We had high mortality last year with the turkeys, and we lost money big time. I didn't want to do turkeys again, but the family talked me into it. Quite a few last year were lost to equally stupid reasons ... a stray cat that came along and managed to eat about a dozen babies, a dozen that just wandered off one day and never returned. Yeah, we learned from that. This year, we have them in an area that is definitely inaccessible to any varmint that might come along; and we will only use a controlled release plan for putting them on pasture, starting them on a small fenced in area until they're smart enough to go into their house at night, and then giving them unlimited room to roam.
I am equally unhappy with the job the mama turkeys have been doing with their babies. One hatched about six of the eggs in her nest, then left. Several more eggs hatched or were pipped, but the babies died, of course, from getting cold. Too bad we didn't realize what had happened until it was too late. The six babies all disappeared within a few days.
Two more hens had nests on top of the barn storeroom. I heard chirping up there a couple days ago, so we put food and water up there for them. One by one, however, they fell down to the barn floor. The mothers are quite odd. Yesterday, they left the babies huddled in a corner with a barn cat eyeing them, while they chased a squirrel and a duck, who presented no threat to their babies at all. I repeatedly redirected the barn cat and finally picked up all the babies and put them near the two hens, who don't seem to know or care which babies belonged to whom.
Another hen has a nest on the floor in the corner next to the storeroom. She suddenly has a few babies, and we're thinking it's some of the ones that fell from the top of the storeroom, where the other hens hatched eggs. We're keeping an eye on her, because it is entirely possible -- probable -- that she will leave her nest before her eggs are ready to hatch since she already has a brood of poults. If she leaves, we need to get those eggs into an incubator ASAP so they will still hopefully hatch.
It is hard to believe this is our fifth year raising turkeys. We still feel like novices. The past couple years we nailed tin into the corners to round them out and eliminate the corner. If you don't have a corner, that should eliminate the risk of them huddling into corners, but that had it's problems too. We had some turkeys get stuck behind the tin and die, even though the tin was two feet high -- somehow they managed to go over the top and fall into the small space behind the tin. Who knew baby turkeys could jump that high? We tried putting chicken wire in the corners to round it out, thinking that they'd still be able to breathe if another poult got on top of them, and some still died -- probably from the weight of the birds stacked on top of them. They don't even really need corners to die -- last week I went into the barn in the early evening to find about 20 piled on top of each other next to the wall, so I herded them all back under the brooder.
On one hand, I can see why commercial turkey growers go to such lengths to reduce mortality -- putting drugs in the feed and water and keeping them confined forever. On the other hand, none of those things make the turkeys any smarter. My daughter had seen the poults huddled into a corner last night, and she herded them all back under the brooder. I guess someone could spend the night with them to make sure they all stay put ... but ...
Monday, May 8, 2006
The reason we started using this type of fencing is because we have 32 acres, and the perimeter is fenced in rusty old barbed wire, which would not keep goats contained, and it's far too expensive to replace all of that with new woven wire. We have quite a few newly fenced pastures, but that's only about 6-7 acres of our property. Since we can't afford to permanently fence in all of it, we decided to start using the movable fencing so that we could utilize more of the pasture. We can fence in a 40 X 40 area by using one fence, or if we put them together, we can fence in an area that's 80 X 80. Last week, we first used only one fence, and three bucks ate down the grass in 2-3 days. We decided to put two rolls of fencing together, so hopefully that will last them a week since it's four times as much grass. We also added two more bucks though, so ... we'll just have to see how fast they eat the grass! If you want to learn more about the temporary fencing, you can check out Premier's Web site, which is where we bought it.
I made two batches of soap this morning. This afternoon we visited a farm to look at horses. My daughters really like to ride, and although I am interested in riding, I am more interested in having a draft animal. I've thought about training a goat to pull a cart, and my daughter has talked about training her miniature donkey, but he has to be at least two years old. I'd like an animal that can help us in the garden pulling a small plow, as well as one who can pull a cart when it's loaded with firewood or hay or manure. We looked at a few different horses owned by this person, and unfortunately the one that would suit our needs perfectly is $2,000. I know it's not a bad price for the horse, but we just don't have $2,000 sitting around right now. My daughter has saved up $600 towards a horse so far, and she asked me if I could help pay for it, which I can't. I wish I could though, because I know it would be a good helper around the farm! Yesterday as I was moving straw from the barn to the garden (to use as mulch) I was again thinking of how useful a draft animal would be!
Sunday, May 7, 2006
Today is a gardening day. We are now two weeks past our final frost date, so it's time to get everything into the ground. In addition to gardening, we'll also have to move the bucks. We're using temporary fencing to move them around the pasture across the creek. And I'll keep checking the sheep pasture to see when Fee lambs!
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
Last year, Scandal birthed her babies with little more effort than what is required for walking, so when she started screaming, we were a little worried. She was pushing really hard, stretching out her legs and rolling onto her side, stretching out her neck. She'd lay her ears back, which goats only do when they are really unhappy. After a few minutes, we saw a hoof sticking out about an inch. After a couple more pushes, we saw two hooves. The best position for baby goats to be born is that the head is laying flat against the two front legs -- so it's a good thing to see two sets of hooves presenting. We started to become concerned though, because she was pushing really hard, but as soon as the contraction was over, the hooves would go back inside. After several contractions we didn't see the nose, and the hooves were not staying out, so I told Margaret to go wash her hands, because it looked like Scandal might need help. I was afraid that the baby's head was turned backwards, laying over its spine, creating a big lump of baby rather than a nice long torpedo-shaped kid. Margaret went next door to the shed to wash her hands because there's hot water in there. Just as she was returning, we finally saw a tongue on top of the hooves -- then a nose! The only thing Margaret did was grab the hooves and hold them firmly so they couldn't go back in when Scandal took a break, and in only a couple more pushes, the baby came out. We could immediately see why she had such trouble -- he was huge!
Scandal stood up immediately, causing the umbilical cord to snap, and blood squirted on my white sneakers, which I had just washed (of course). She turned around and started licking off the baby. We helped to get the big mess of mucous off of him, but Scandal was very attentive. After 15 or 20 minues, she plopped down again and gave a little push. My daughters both said something about another baby, and then it practically fell out. It was obviously much smaller than its brother. Scandal again jumped right up and started licking her second baby. We noticed the umbilical cord hanging out, which means there are no more babies. It was just time to admire the two bucklings and wait for the placenta.
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
Today we filled four orders for goat milk soap, which is a record for a non-December month. We're pretty excited about it, since we normally only have business like that during the holiday season.
I also made buttermilk for the first time ever. It will be ready tomorrow, so we shall see how I did! Can't wait to make buttermilk pancakes with my homemade buttermilk.
Today's lunch was so delicious ... goat cheese sandwiches with grilled portobellos and green peppers!
Time to get to bed in case a screaming goat wakes me over the baby monitor tonight.
Monday, May 1, 2006
This morning, she still looked the same, so Margaret and I had to take Hercules to the vet to have his leg checked. Three weeks ago he was delivered to me with a broken leg. He didn't have a broken leg when the transporter picked him up in Texas, but between there and here, he tried to jump a fence, got his leg caught, and he broke his leg. That took the whole morning after chores, because the vet is 50 minutes away. We pass four other vet offices along the way, but not everyone does large animals. It was one of the biggest shocks for me to learn that the vast majority of vets have no desire to see anything other than dogs and cats.
The vet said that Hercules's leg is healing well, but he needs to keep the cast on for two more weeks. The really good news is that his leg is continuing to grow. That had been a concern because the break was really close to a growth plate.
We called home for updates, only to learn that Scandal was still very pregnant. This afternoon, I spent some time sitting with her in the barn, which she seems to really love. Whenever we try to leave her, she has a fit. If we put her outside, she's okay with that, but it was windy today, and we've had bad experiences in the past with goats kidding unattended. Really, everything comes out okay, but when moms have three or more kids, they usually start shooting out really fast after the second one, and the mom doesn't have time to get them cleaned up. They are really wet when they're born, and they can get chilled very quickly. Of course, hypothermia can kill them very quickly. Scandal's labor is stacking up very much like Dancy's labor of 2004 and Sherri's labor of 2005. In both cases, we saw signs of early labor with the goats for two days. In both cases, someone even spent the whole night in the barn with them. In both cases, we got really frustrated after two days, decided we didn't know what we were doing, and we left. In both cases, we came back to find three babies -- two nursing and one covered with mucous and nearly dead. Luckily, in both cases we were able to save the babies. By plunging them into a bucket or sink filled with 100 degree water, and then wrapping them in a heating pad, we were eventually able to get their body temperature back up to normal. The first time, it was really scary. The second time, I was really angry at myself for having to save another baby from near death by hypothermia.
Scandal isn't screaming or doing anything to make me think she is in distress, but the area between her ribs and her hips is hollowed out, which usually doesn't happen unless they're within 24 hours of giving birth. For the past 24 hours, I've continued to think that it won't be much longer ... eventually those babies will be ready to come out, and we can't forget that! I held my hand on her belly this afternoon, and the kids were kicking and wiggling around in there.
This evening, we put up the bucks across the creek in a pen made with temporary electrical fencing, so they can get some of this wonderfully fresh spring grass. Temporary fencing is made to be easily moved so they can have new fresh grass when they eat everything in their current pen.
My ankle is improving slowly. It still hurts a lot, and it has turned all kinds of pretty colors, but it only swells if I've been on my feet for an hour or two. That's an improvement. When I wake up in the morning, it feels good.
It's been a long day. The sun is going down later. We didn't get inside until after 8:00 tonight. I still need some dinner.
Sunday, April 30, 2006
Today we had two families pick up four goats. The first couple picked up two. They are from Iowa and are starting a show herd. The second customer was a widow from Indiana who just wants some pet goats. I wish all my goats could go to a home like hers. She talked about how she's been showing everyone Eve's picture for the past three weeks as she waited to pick her up.
This afternoon, Margaret informed me that Scandal the goat was in labor. She sat with her for about an hour, then I took over while she and Jonathan went to town to see a movie. I took a new novel with me out there, and 179 pages later, we still don't have any new kids. Scandal has clearly been enjoying the company. She untied my shoe laces, sniffed at my book, and spent most of her time just lieing next to me. She is wanting more of the red raspberry leaves, which are supposed to help strengthen the uterus.
Last year, Scandal's birth happened so quickly, I think we're all a little paranoid. Katherine came inside during morning chores to tell me she was in labor, so I went out there and told Katherine to come inside for breakfast. "There's no reason for both of us to be hungry," I said. Only a few minutes after Katherine left, Scandal started giving birth, and I was stuck out there without any clean towels to dry the babies. She effortlessly (seemed that way) pushed four baby goats into the world so quickly! Of course, now I look back and think that we really have no idea how long she was in labor when Katherine spotted her pushing during morning chores. She could have been laboring all night.
I'm not sure what we'll be doing when morning comes if Scandal hasn't given birth yet, because we have to take our little buck to the vet to have the cast removed from his leg. At the moment, Margaret is with Scandal again. When I went to leave shortly after 10 p.m., Scandal -- huge, pregnant Scandal tried to jump out of the stall and follow me! Oh my, did that scare me! So, I called to Margaret over the baby monitor, and she came outside to labor watch. If we didn't have that appointment at 10:20 tomorrow morning, I'd be hoping that she'd just hold out until morning; however, since we do have that appointment, I'm thinking that a middle-of-the-night birth might not be such a bad thing. Unless I hear Margaret calling me over the baby monitor fairly quickly, I'll be sleeping with it next to my bed, so I'll wake up when I hear her bleating. She's such a stoic goat though, I know I won't have a lot of time to get out there from when she makes the first noises, so I also need to have my farm clothes sitting on the chair in my bedroom, ready to be pulled on as soon as I'm awakened. This is the most fun time of year, but also the most difficult.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
I just had to add another picture of the new lambs! Spotted lambs are so cute! You don't really breed for color with goats because their main purpose is dairy, but with the sheep, you're breeding for wool, so I can indulge my desire for beautiful colors and spots!
Today I put my soft goat cheese into the molds to drain. Last night, the milk was mixed with the culture and sat overnight to separate into curds and whey. With only a gallon of Nigerian dwarf milk, I can fill up eight of the chevre molds, which equals about two pounds of cheese. A gallon of standard goat milk only fills up four, because their butterfat is about half what the Nigerian milk is. I did four molds with plain cheese, two with dill and garlic, and two with fresh basil that I had chopped up in the food processor. Then the molds sit on a cookie rack on top of a baking pan, which collects the whey as it drips out of the molds. You can't see it in the picture, but the plastic cups actually have holes in them where the whey drains out. Really, we could eat it at any time now, but we will definitely be eating it tonight! If you take it out of the molds before it's done draining, you just wind up with whey on the plate as it continues to drain. But we're all so starved for goat cheese after several months without it that we don't care!