Monday, February 27, 2006

A beautiful day ... and a dreaded chore

What a beautiful, busy day! I had an amazing amount of energy, which I have to credit to the beautiful weather. I didn't want to waste any time in the house. It is so unusual to have temperatures in the 50s in February. The forecast is calling for more great temps for the week.

Today, we had to do my most dreaded chore on the farm -- disbud kids. Many people find it hard to believe that I wanted goats because I love goat cheese. I really knew nothing about the animals, and I mean nothing. I had no idea that dairy goats are normally born with horns, and then the hornbuds are burned so that horns don't grow. I don't recall exactly when I discovered this dreadful news, but I do remember being very unhappy about it. In fact, for many months, I insisted that at some point in the future I wouldn't disbud my kids. I accepted the fact that almost everyone wants their goats disbudded, and I understood that it was much worse to remove horns that had grown, rather than burn the horbuds shortly after birth, but I assumed that at some point, I would be comfortable enough with my goats -- and know that I would keep them forever -- that I would not disbud them.

Then someone gave me two pygoras, which are pygmy/angora crosses. They had horns, and for weeks, they terrorized my goats. I kept saying that they would have to learn to live with each other and that they would work out their pecking order. But I learned a lot watching my goats trying to stand up for themselves with those mean little goats. Not only are the horns dangerously pointed, but the horns are also harder than a goat's head. A goat without horns is at a distinct disadvantage when butting heads with a horned goat. After about three months, I looked out the window one day to see one of the horned goats hook his horns under a pregnant doe and lift her off the ground. I screamed, "That's it!" and instructed my children to pull the horned goats out of the pasture and lock them up by themselves. In the meantime, I got on the computer and emailed the person who had given me the horned goats, explaining that I just couldn't keep them any longer.

It was not a fun lesson to learn, but it could have been worse. I met a woman on-line who said that she saw a mama goat "gut" a baby goat that was not hers and tried to nurse from her. Oh my! So, I no longer think about having goats with horns. Yes, it's painful, I'm sure, but I'm also sure that it's better than having goats kill each other with their horns.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Change of plans

This morning, we were supposed to go to Wisconsin to pick up our new buckling, but more than a foot of snow up north changed our plans. It's a lovely day here, so it's hard to believe that the people in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan are snowed in!

We are so excited about getting this little buckling, and we've been waiting almost two years for him. We got a half brother of his two years ago, and after we'd had him for about six weeks, he died. It was our first awareness that we had a parasite problem, but it was quite a learning experience for us. It also introduced us to the Vet Clinic at the University of Illinois, and it caused us to learn how to do our own fecal exams. And even though the breeder didn't have to do this, she told us that next time his mother had a buckling, she would give him to us. We were thrilled and have been waiting expectantly ever since. Last year, unfortunately, the mother gave birth to triplet does. The breeder was thrilled, of course, but it meant we'd have to wait for our new little buck.

So, why are we so excited about this little guy? His mother has a VERY impressive udder with beautiful, long teats that are easy to milk. She also has a milk star, meaning that she's a good producer, and her butterfat tested at 11%, which is out of this world. Nigerians normally have butterfat that's about twice as high as a big milk goat, or 7-8% versus 3-4%, and that's why we love their milk so much. Having 11% butterfat is a cheesemaker's dream! So, we're hoping that little Valentino (yes, we're naming him after the silent movie heart throb) will make daughters with his mother's beautiful udder and high butterfat. And it's just icing on the cake that he has blue eyes, so half of his babies will have blue eyes. Every year, we get requests for goats with blue eyes, but all of our goats have brown eyes, so this little guy will also fill a sale niche for us.

Provided the weather cooperates, we will be heading up to Wisconsin tomorrow to meet the breeder halfway and bring home our new beautiful little buck! He's going to be a busy boy next fall! I hope the other bucks don't get too jealous.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Twins ... with a twist

Katherine and I were at the 4-H meeting this afternoon when I called home to ask Margaret a question. Mike answered the phone and said he'd be happy to ask her, but she was outside helping Fannie. "What? Is she in labor?" Yes, Fannie was in labor. I told Katherine, and we went rushing out of the meeting.

By the time we got home, Margaret had dried off two little kids: a buck and a doe. The little buck is gold and white, and the doe is a pattern called chamoisee: chocolate with a black stripe down her spine and black legs. Apparently Fannie had a little trouble and was pushing for quite some time with the first kid. Finally Margaret realized the problem when a hind leg popped out. The baby was breech ... and in the world of breech births, there are easy breeches and difficult breeches, and rear hooves first is pretty tough. Margaret grabbed the hooves and helped pull while Fannie pushed, and together, they got the little guy birthed.

Our excitement was short lived though. When they were about an hour old, Margaret was examining the little doe, whom she was planning to keep. When she checked the teats, she realized that the little girl has not just two teats like a normal goat, but FOUR! The little buck also has an extra teat. Oh my! This was not a planned breeding, but another of Mercury's follies when he jumped the fence five months ago. We didn't even know Fannie was pregnant until we noticed she was developing an udder in January. Since the only escape we'd had was Mercury at the end of September, we assumed he did it -- and apparently he did, as Fannie gave birth on the due date!

The teat defects also make sense if he's the father. When Star had a kid with a teat defect last year, we started doing some pedigree research and discovered that Star's grandfather and great grandfather had a nasty habit of throwing teat defects. These two goats are also in Fannie's pedigree, meaning that a cross between Star's son and Fannie is a line-breeding, and traits of the common animals might be exagerated -- that's something that breeders do on purpose when you have a really great goat, but it's something to be avoided when you have a goat who has a negative attribute like the tendency to throw teat defects. So, both of these babies will be sold as pets without papers, because teat defects are a disqualifying trait in the show ring. It's disappointing for Margaret, who is Fannie's owner, but at least she'll be able to show Fannie at the fairs this year.

Another bonus for us is that we will be able to milk Fannie to get milk for Star's doe whom we're bottle-feeding. Star and Sherri are both feeding three babies already, and since Fannie only has two to feed, we should be able to get extra milk from her for little Stella. I don't think I mentioned that we decided to name Star's baby Antiquity Oaks Constellation, because her black spots look like a constellation of stars, according to Katherine. I didn't like it at first because the only nickname I could think of was Connie, but then when I thought of Stella as a nickname, I was agreeable to naming her Constellation. Then, we can name all of her babies after constellations when she grows up!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

We have quads!

I am typing this post with a baby sleeping in my lap. Shortly before noon today, Star gave birth to four beautiful babies! She seems to have a fondness for boys (she's had 80% bucklings), and this time was no different. The first kid was a lovely little black and white flashy doeling, so we had our hopes up that she'd be giving us mostly girls this year, but that's not what happened. The other three were bucks.

We'd seen signs of impending labor for two days already, and this morning didn't seem a lot different than the last couple mornings. But at one point, Katherine went outside to check on her, and as if the whole thing were choreographed, Star's water broke just as Katherine looked into the stall. She came running back to the house, yelling, "Star's water broke!" I grabbed the camera and went to the barn. The first baby was born about 15 minutes after we got there, maybe only 10 minutes. It wasn't very long. Then Star spent another 10 minutes licking her and walking around in a circle. She pushed out the head of the second baby, and although she continued pushing, nothing happened. The little black head was hanging out, and the baby was yelling! I slipped two fingers into her and swept around the neck, looking for legs. The head should come out with legs, and since there were no legs out, it was obvious that they were twisted in some way that was making it difficult for the rest of the baby to get out. I found the left leg quickly, and pulled it right out, but I couldn't find the right leg, meaning it was probably straight back, so I gently pulled on the leg and shoulders, and the baby came out easily. The last two babies were born without much fanfare.

Since we have never had a doe successfully raise quads here, it was a quick and easy decision to take the little doeling into the house, even though Star is our best milker. If anyone could raise quads, I imagine Star could, but I've decided it's just too stressful to be weighing babies and trying to figure out if they're getting enough milk. Since goats only have two teats, it's not just a matter of production -- it's also a matter of the kids getting the time they need at the teats.

We have one more goat due now, and then we'll have a break for a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Waiting ...

The hardest part about kidding season is waiting. We have two does due on Friday, but today when Katherine and I went outside, ready to go into town for errands and my birthday lunch, Star started talking to us across the pasture. Since goats are usually quiet animals, we wondered what she was telling us. We walked over to the pasture, and she walked up to the fence, continuing to tell us something very important. You could tell it was very important by the way she looked at us as she continued talking. Her belly was starting to look a little hollow near her spine, meaning that the babies are starting to drop into birth position, but she didn't looked as hollow as one does when birth is imminent. Katherine thought that he tail ligaments were soft, but not mush. We decided that we should put her into a clean stall while we were gone, although that was a tough decision to make -- to go or to stay? Last year, Star was in labor all day before she gave birth that evening. Two years ago, we postponed a trip into town for two days because Dancy was in labor. Trying to be more mellow about the whole birthing thing, I told Katherine we should leave her in a clean stall in the barn and go to town. So, that's what we did.

We went straight to a restaurant for lunch, and the whole time, I kept thinking that she might be giving birth. We decided to skip the bank, the grocery store and all the other errands and just get home as quickly as possible. So, we arrived back home only an hour after leaving, and Star was standing on top of a big spool in the stall where we left her. She was looking very normal, although not very content. She wanted to go back outside. How frustrating! Before we left, she very much wanted to be in the barn! This is why it takes a whole week of our lives when it's kidding time for a couple of goats. For several days prior to the actual birth, we eat, sleep, breathe and think of nothing else other than the goats. We make dozens of trips to the barn. We read novels out there. We watch them through the window if they're in the pasture. Sometimes we even sleep in the barn. And from what I understand, we're a bit more low-key about the whole thing than some people.

Am I complaining? No. I love kidding time. Waiting is just a normal part of it. It's the biggest part of it. It's the part that reminds me of the importance of patience. Everything in nature teaches us important lessons, and I think the biggest thing kidding teaches us is patience. The best things in life are worth waiting for.

Friday, February 17, 2006

We have chicks!

When we did not get the usual 7 a.m. phone call from the post office, we were all worrying about the future of our baby chicks. I even called the hatchery to be sure they were in transit, and they were. The temperature has been falling here, and tonight it is supposed to be below zero! Plus, these chicks were hatched on Wednesday, and although two days without feed and water is not a problem for newborn chicks, three days is really stressing them. But there was nothing we could do. (Just before newborn chicks are born, they absorb the egg yolk into their belly through their umbilicus, which is why they don't need any food for a day or two.)

At 1 p.m., the phone rang. Caller ID said "US government," which caused great confusion, but it was the post office! It was not, however, our local post office. It was the post office in the town that's 25 miles away. This is not the first time this has happened, and in the past, it's been resolved in a variety of ways. Sometimes they drive them over here, and sometimes we go pick them up. So, I asked if we needed to go pick them up. The woman said that there were no more trucks heading to Cornell today, so if I didn't pick them up, they could stay at the post office until tomorrow morning. I hope I didn't hurt her ears as I shrieked, "They'll be dead by then. Oh, no, we're coming to get them right now!"

This is the second time we've ordered poultry from Privett Hatchery, and I'd have to say they are definitely #1 in our books. We've also ordered from McMurray, Cackle, and Ideal, and mortality from those was always higher than what we've experienced with Privett. When I called the hatchery this morning to check on the shipment, the woman said that they check the weather forecast of the place the chicks are being shipped, and they pack them accordingly. I guess I always kind of thought everyone would do that, but I don't think so now. There was only one air hole on the top of each of the box's four compartments, and we only had 5% mortality, which is the lowest ever for a shipment this time of year. We've had 100% mortality sometimes! Having only one hole in the box is obviously the smart thing to do, because it keeps the chicks' body heat in the box! Two years ago, we ordered our turkeys from Privett, and we had the lowest turkey mortality rate ever for turkeys that year. So, we are definitely ordering our birds from Privett from now on.

When we got the birds home, we put them in the basement. We use a large water trough as a brooder, and hang a heat lamp in it to keep the chicks warm. Since we have 111 chicks, they can't stay in there for long, because it's pretty crowded. In the past, we've put them in a stall in the barn with heat lamps hanging from above. But this year, Mike is going to build an old-fashioned brooder like one he saw at another farmer's place. It's basically a big upside down wooden box with a heat lamp in it. The chicks can run under it when they're cold, and move out when they're warm. Have the large "roof" though, they will have a much warmer area than if the lamps were just hanging from a 2X4 in an open stall. Hopefully, we'll also need less heat lamps, so our electric bill won't be as high as it usually gets in spring.

Speaking of that cold weather we're expecting tonight ... our new baby goats were shivering even with the heat lamp, so we made them little coats out of an old sweatshirt, and now they're snug and warm! Katherine and I are pretty proud of our ingenuity. She asked if I had an old sweatshirt she could use to sew coats for them, and when I pulled out an old sweatshirt to donate, it suddenly occured to me that the sleeve looked like it would make a perfect coat -- no sewing required! The wrist band makes a perfect neckband for a baby goat, and the lower part of the sleeve is the coat. Of course, a shirt only has two sleeves, and we have three babies, so we were only able to use that unique design for two of the coats. The third coat did require a minimal amount of sewing. You can see the baby on the right is wearing her coat already, but we were still working on the third coat for the little cream doe!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

It's triplets!

Sorry I haven't posted in a few days, but I am recovering from four days in bed with the flu. Last night, however, I got a "welcome back to the real world" gift of three new baby goats! When I went to the bathroom at 1 a.m., I heard a goat over the baby monitor. There is only one reason a goat makes noise in the middle of the night, so I grabbed my clothes and got dressed as quickly as I could. Sherri was at Day 149 as of midnight, and normal gestation is 145-150 days. I grabbed a big stack of clean towels and ran out into the unseasonable thunderstorm, headed for the barn. I wasn't more than 20 steps into the barn when I heard the familiar squeak of a newborn kid. I ran up to Sherri's stall to see one baby on the ground while mama was working on bringing the second one into the world. I dropped to my knees to start drying the one already born, keeping my eyes on Sherri the whole time. When the big bubble of fluid popped and a head emerged, I placed the first baby under the heat lamp and caught the second baby as it was sliding into the world. In the middle of drying off that one, I realized I didn't know if they were boys or girls, so I looked between their hind legs, thrilled to discover that both were does!

Sherri stood up so casually, I wondered if she would only be having two this year, even though she's always had triplets before. As she licked her two little daughters, the gold and white one started bopping her mama's chest, stomach, neck, etc., looking for her first meal. After a few minutes, Sherri plopped down again, and I'm not even sure that she made a sound as she easily gave birth to baby #3, a buckling. Within a couple of minutes, she was once again standing and licking her babies. I stayed with them for about an hour until I started to feel weak and dizzy and a little sick to my stomach. I realized that I probably should not be spending too much time in the barn while I'm still recovering from the flu. I came inside and woke up my youngest to go sit with the babies to make sure everyone was nursing. Although the little gold doeling figured out the nursing thing very quickly, the other two were still pretty clueless.

Sherri's birth this year was so much better than last year, even though 1 a.m. births are not my favorite. Her labor went exactly as last year's, but our reaction was different. Sherri spent two or three days really looking like she was in labor. She'd lie down and push her legs out in front of her, or she'd squat and push. It really looked like she was in labor. Last year, I posted a message on a Yahoo goat group, asking for advice after two days of Sherri's unusual labor, and most people responded with all sorts of dire possibilities. My daughters were quite worried and convinced we needed to intervene. Finally, we did a vaginal exam to discover that she had not even started to dialate. The next day, however, she gave birth to her babies in the pasture during the 15 minutes when no one was out there!

This year, as I was laying in bed sick, the girls gave me reports from the barn regularly. Finally it occurred to me that Sherri gives birth just like I do. It took me a day or two of labor with each of my three children. My body would putz around having contractions that irritated me and even hurt, but they didn't do anything to actually get the babies out. But when my body did finally decide it was time to give birth, they all came flying out in record time: I pushed for 25 minutes with my first, 20 minutes with my second, and one really big push birthed my third child. That's what Sherri is like. She putzes around for days, but when her body is ready, the babies come flying into the world. This year, I was determined to honor her unique way of giving birth.

Friday, February 10, 2006


If it was Henry David Thoreau who ignited the fire in me to live this life, it was Laura Ingalls Wilder who fanned the flames of that fire and kept it burning until we could actually find our country paradise. I have been thinking about them today because our living room looks more like a warehouse than a room for living. Thoreau and Wilder did not have to live with UPS deliveries though. As the orders have arrived from the goat catalogs, the boxes have been unpacked, the goat stuff has been put away, and the boxes have just been sitting in the living room.

I have been convinced for some years now that there is just too much stuff in our lives. That was the beauty of Thoreau's Walden. There was no stuff there. The Ingalls family could fit all of its possession into a covered wagon. I don't think a month's worth of 21st century mail could fit into a covered wagon. And a great deal of our stuff is ultimately garbage. All of the bags and packaging of our modern foods are just garbage. In the 19th century, flour was sold in 50-pound cloth sacks. When the sack was empty, you had fabric to make an apron or to use as a towel. Although I peronsally buy flour in 50-pound bags, they're paper, which is good for nothing more than starting a fire or spending eternity in a landfill. I realize, however, that most modern American will buy ten 5-pound bags of flour, which produces even more garbage than a single 50-pounc bag. And really, most people buy very little flour at all. They buy bread, cakes, cookies, and other prepared food items that require even more packaging, creating more garbage.

Among the many reasons I love living out here is that we are producing so much of what we need, and when we do that, we produce less garbage. When we produce our own milk, it is stored in glass jars and bottles, which are washed and reused. For the past couple of months, I find myself wondering what we can do with the remains of a milk carton. In the middle of summer when the farm is in full production, we create very little garbage at all. For breakfast, we have homemade biscuits with goat-milk gravy and fresh eggs. For lunch, we might have a fresh salad or quiche made with fresh goat milk, fresh eggs, fresh spinach, fresh goat cheese. Dinner might be a fresh chicken and other fresh vegetables. Even when considering all of the things I've done in my life, there is little that compares to the feeling of accomplishment when we sit down to dinner and note that virtually everything on the table was the result of our labor. It's healtheir because it's organic and it's fresh, but it also tastes like a little bit of heaven. I can hardly wait for summer!

Thursday, February 9, 2006

Garden plans, rabbits and goats

Still no bunnies, although Zinnia had our hopes us this morning as she was sitting in her nest box with a very serious look on her face. I think this is Day 34 though, and I've never heard of a rabbit giving birth that late. I think it would be the equivalent of a human giving birth at 10 months ... maybe possible, but highly unlikely. So, since Katherine wants bunnies to show in the fair, I think another "date" with Rocky needs to be scheduled.

Yesterday, after I posted my blog, I went through the catalogs for Baker Creek and Heirloom Seeds. I got the Baker Creek order placed. I finally found some tomato seeds, so that helped reduce my order to only $20. We are getting these tomatoes: Green Sausage, Red Fig or Pear-Shaped, Amana Orange, Cherokee Purple, White Currant, Cream Sausage, and Pink Grapefruit, which was listed in the yellow tomatoes, because it is yellow on the outside! Last year, someone gave us a couple of the Amana orange tomato plants, and I loved their big, juicy orange tomatoes, so we have to grow those again! I am also going to try the orangeglo watermelons. We've tried watermelons in the past, and they don't usually get big enough, so this year, I'm going to start them inside with the tomaotes and peppers.

Sherri is the goat due on Valentine's Day, and her tail ligaments are gone, which means she is getting close. Full term for goats is 145-150 days, and now she is at 142 days, so we're getting excited. Last year, Sherri gave us quite a fright. She appeared to be in labor for two days (yeah, another one of those), so we stayed with her constantly. Finally, we decided to just let her do whatever she wanted, so when she wanted to go outside, we let her. About 15 minutes later, my son went outside to find three wet baby goats in the pasture with her! Two were fine, but one was chilled. It seemed dead, but we brought it inside and plunged it into a sink of warm water and kept rubbing it. After about 10 minutes, we took it out of the warm water, wrapped it in a towel and a heating pad and just held it for another 10 minutes or so. We named all three of those babies after authors who wrote scary stories, since Sherri scared us so much! That little goat who got chilled is Shirley Jackson, author of "The Lottery," and we still have her. Even though she always got last in the show ring last year, she is one of my favorites.

Katherine tried to clean out a stall for kidding yesterday, but it was too windy. Today we were cleaning house and cooking and completely forgot about it until now! I need to find the baby monitor, so I can hear what's happening in the barn during the night. Hopefully, nothing happens tonight! Tomorrow morning, I'll have to get someone to clean up a stall for her and get a heat lamp set up in there for the babies. This is not exactly the best weather for kidding, but we're always excited to see new baby goats, regardless of the weather.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Garden rant and cute goats

Still no baby rabbits and no sign of impending labor.

I am, however, excited about the upcoming gardening season. Yesterday, I inventoried the seeds in my seed basket. As usual, I was surprised by how many there are! I think some are probably getting too old to be viable though. There are a couple packets from 2002 still! I was surprised that I couldn't find any tomato seeds. I recall finishing off a couple packets of tomato seeds last year, but I also know that last year was the first time I planted several of the tomatoes, so there should have been some seeds left. When I went to town today, I looked over the seed selection and purchased a few heirlooms that they had in stock. It's a great savings if you can find heirloom seeds locally. I paid 10 to 25 cents for most seed packets. The rest will be ordered from Heirloom Seeds and Baker Creek Seeds at a price of $1-2 a packet, although it is only fair to note that most of their packets contain a lot more seeds that the store-bought brands.

It is important to me to buy heirloom seeds for the same reason I want to raise heritage animals -- to continue the biodiversity that we have on this planet. You can also save seeds from the plants if they are heirlooms, so you don't have to keep buying seeds every year. I admit I've not been very good at saving seeds, but it is on my "to do" list. It was either George Washington or Thomas Jefferson who said that any man who had to buy seeds after his first year farming was not much of a farmer. Of course, Jefferson and Washington are probably spinning in their graves if they've caught wind of the rules of modern agriculture. I had heard that many of the modern ag companies are requiring farmers to sign a document stating that they will not save seeds from the plants they grow, and now I can say I've actually seen one of those documents. We received a seed catalog this year that had such a contract. Needless to say, I will not be buying any seed from them. That would be like a goat breeder telling me that even though I'm buying this goat, I'm not allowed to breed any of her kids. That's just nuts!

In addition to promoting biodiversity, heirloom vegetables also provide a diverse assortment of food on our table. Last year, we grew every color tomato imaginable .... green striped was my favorite, but the orange tomatoes were also delicious! I'm not a big cherry tomato fan, but my husband and oldest daughter loved the black cherry tomatoes. All those colors also provided us with some very snazzy-looking salsa! I can't believe it's already Feb. 8 -- I need to get my gardening supplies together and get these seeds started!

As I'm writing this, I am also looking out the window, watching the baby goats -- they're not exactly babies anymore, but we have this habit of calling them babies until they give birth themselves. Esther and Shirley, two of last year's babies, keep bouncing around on their hind legs and butting heads with each other. I have no idea what disagreement has caused them to be so aggressive with each other, but it provides an amusing show for us humans. Who needs reality television when you've got real farm animals to entertain you?

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Season of waiting

We've spent the past two or three days waiting. At first, we were patient and hopeful, but now our tones are becoming more exasperated as we talk about the impending birth. Now, with each passing hour, we are starting to contemplate the simple fact that Zinnia, a gray Dutch rabbit, may not be pregnant. Rabbits are pregnant for about 30 days, and today is Day 31. Her nestbox remains untouched, and we haven't seen a single hair that should have been plucked from her body to make the nest warm and cozy for her babies.

Normally, our rabbits live in the smaller barn, but since it's cold outside, we brought Zinnia inside, so her babies wouldn't die from exposure. Even in a nest box filled with straw and rabbit fur, naked baby rabbits can freeze when it's too cold. But now we're starting to talk about the possibility that there won't be any babies. We look at Zinnia and ask her to tell us if she's pregnant, but she doesn't say anything. Whoever decided that rabbits should represent the gold standard for prolific breeding? When someone says "breeding like rabbits," they mean breeding like crazy, right? Well, why don't our rabbits "breed like rabbits?" If Zinnia isn't pregnant, it won't be the first time this has happened. The first time it happened, I wound up calling multiple vets around the county and ultimately the Univeristy of Illinois. At Day 35, the other mama rabbit made the most beautiful nest, but didn't have any babies. After contemplating a two-hour drive to U of I for a c-section, I finally decided to forego the several-hundred-dollar procedure to save the life of the $30 rabbit, which it turns out, was not even pregnant.

That's not nearly as bad as what happened to a friend of mine with goats. She did have the vet come out to her farm to check her two oberhasli does that were two weeks past their due date. She was absolutely certain they were pregnant, and she had spent several freezing nights in the barn with them around their due dates. She was not a happy woman when the vet informed her that neither goat was pregnant.

So, if Zinnia does not kindle in the next day or so, we'll start over again. Her last "date" with Rocky seemed so successful. When a rabbit mating is successful, the male falls over (almost flips over and sometimes squeals) as if he's been shot. Yes, it is as funny as it sounds. We were quite certain that there were three successful matings, so we are still hopeful that we'll see some bunnies in the next 24 hours. If so, they'll be our first babies of 2006. If not, our first babies will be goats, which are due around Valentine's Day, so we only have a week -- maybe less -- to wait.

Monday, February 6, 2006

First geese of the season!

We don't need any mythical groundhogs to tell us that spring is on the way. We know it's coming as soon as we see the first Canada geese visit our pond. I was enjoying a fresh chocolate chip muffin this morning when I heard the familiar honking, and two geese came in for a landing on our frozen pond. Rather than splashing down, they skidded across the ice. What a wonderful way to start the morning! (for both me and the geese)

Every year around this time, the geese are scouting around for a place to have their babies. I'm not sure where they chose last year, but it was somewhere nearby, because they brought the babies to the pond every few days after they were hatched. They are such wonderful parents! There were nine fluffy little goslings the very first time they visited, and there were still nine when the babies were almost as big as their parents. (I wish domestic geese and ducks were such good parents.) Still, it will take them a while to decide where to build their nest, then a few weeks to lay the eggs and another month for the eggs to hatch ... and at some point in April, we will hopefully see another gaggle of beautiful, fluffy goslings walk out of our woods and stride onto the pond for their first swim.

Sunday, February 5, 2006

Paying kids to go to school?

I subscribe to the New York Times online, and although I don't have time to read it most days, I do try to read the Sunday edition. There is almost always something thought provoking in there, but a story in today's edition really knocked my socks off!

I had NO idea that schools are actually paying kids for good attendance. Some are paying as little as $25, and some are going so far as to put kids into a lottery if they have good attendance. They can win $500, $1,000, even a new computer or a car! If you think this sounds too wild to be true, read it yourself on the New York Times Web site.

This is just about THE #1 dumbest thing the schools have come up with! First of all, it assumes that the American notion of "seat times = an education" is indeed true, which I would argue it is not. There are plenty of kids who have good attendance and poor grades. Sitting in the classroom does not ensure that a child is educated. Second, you are telling kids that there is no value in going to school, so you are going to add value to it by paying them! Kids should be getting the message that an education is priceless!

Proponents of the plan say that they are not doing anything different than an employer who gives his or her employees a bonus for good attendance, and although there may be some employers who do that, most do not. If you have poor attendance in the world of work, you simply lose your job.

This is why I think unschooling is such a good option. My children learn because they want to, not because someone is bribing them with money or blackmailing them with the possibility of bad grades. They recognize the pursuit of knowledge as something that is important all by itself.

Saturday, February 4, 2006

"House" work

Today was a pretty lazy kind of day, except that I helped Mike tile the girls' bathroom. We started building our house in May 2004, and we moved into a very unfinished house that December. We have been living here and working on it ever since. The girls' bathroom is the last one of three to be finished. The toilet and sink were finally installed about a month ago, and today we put the tile around the bathtub. Well, we put tile around the tub until we were almost out of mortar and realized we were nine pieces of bullnose SHORT of being able to finish! So, tonight Mike and I are going out to dinner in Bloomington, then we'll go to Menards and get another bucket of mortar and nine more bullnose pieces of tile. We need to finish the tile tonight, so Mike can grout tomorrow, and the girls will have a working bathroom by Monday!

It's not really accurate to say that the girls' bathroom is the last one of three to be finished. The master bath isn't finished either, but we've been using it. We still need to tile around our tub also, but since we have a separate shower, we've been using that.

For those who think I've got all this stuff figured out, you'll love this story! Two days ago, I made goat milk soap, and for the first time, I used bourbon geranium essential oil and decided to color it with rose hip powder. I added a tablespoon of the rosehip powder, and it didn't look any different, so I added another tablespoon and another and another. Finally, I decided to call it quits, even though I didn't see a difference. Well, yesterday, it was looking pretty dark when I unmolded it, and today it's really dark speckled brown! Guess I should have stopped after the first tablespoon. It will be interesting to see how this soap sells!

Friday, February 3, 2006

Chickens ordered!

My daughters finally decided what chickens they want for the fair this year. This will also become our laying flock and our meat chickens for the year. My 12-year-old daughter chose black austrolorps and Rhode Island reds. Both are supposed to be excellent layers of brown eggs. My 18-year-old daughter chose golden laced wyandottes and buff brahmas. We had silver-laced wyandottes our first year, and there are quite a few still running around the farm. The wyandottes originated in Wisconsin, and we were happy to have several become broody and hatch clutches of eggs a few years ago. This will also be our second time with brahamas, although last time we had the "light" brahmas, which are white and black, rather than gold and black. They are a big, beautiful chicken! We are getting 25 of each breed, straight run, which means they won't be sexed, so we'll probably get 50/50 males and females. This will give us 50 new laying hens and 50 roosters for the table, minus the most handsome rooster of each breed, which will be going to the fair. So, we placed our order today, and the chicks will be hatching on Wednesday, Feb. 15. They should arrive at our post office bright and early Friday morning the 17th.

To see what these chickens look like, you can visit the hatchery's Web site: and click on the catalog link, then "brown egg layers." This reminds me ... as we were doing research on breeds today, we came upon a commercial egg farm Web site that had an FAQ page. In response to the question, "what's the difference between a white egg and a brown egg?" they responded that white eggs are laid by white chickens and brown eggs are laid by brown chickens!!! I was screaming at the computer! So, THIS is where such misinformation comes from! I have never been able to understand the people who would argue with me forever, telling me exactly the same thing. They will persist, even when I tell them that I have white chickens who lay brown eggs! It is not the color of the chicken, but the breed that determines the egg color. I wonder how these people would explain where blue eggs come from ... and there are chickens that lay blue eggs, although they don't have blue feathers. After perusing their Web site, it became sadly obvious to me where their misinformation came from: their flock of white egg layers were white leghorns, and their brown eggs came from their flock of production reds, which are a cross of a Rhode Island red and a New Hampshire red. The white leghorns are the commercial egg-laying chicken because they have the best feed to egg laying ratio of any breed. Leghorns come in a variety of colors though -- and they all lay white eggs. It's sad to see such ignorance in people who are supposed to be professionals. But I suppose this is just one of the many consequences of the factory farming concept. When you use a single breed as the only breed for something, you lose a lot ... I've always complained about the genetic diversity that is being lost, but people are also losing knowledge, as well as their agricultural heritage.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Turkey conundrum

On today's "to do" list: make soap, update the Web site's turkey page, make beans, post a monthly message to the farm's Yahoo group, vacuum and clean the foyer. So far, I've vacuumed and cleaned the foyer.

Two days ago, I called the poultry processor to check out the dreadful rumor that they would no longer be processing poultry for small producers. I'm glad to report that the rumor is false! Woo hoo! I was having a hard time picturing the family outside in November butchering 20 turkeys, which is what I had already determined would be the maximum we'd grow if we had to butcher them ourselves. We do butcher our own chickens and turkeys for our dinner, but it takes us a dreadfully long time. We're down to about 45 minutes for a chicken, and no one even looked at the clock when we butchered the turkey last November, but I think it was probably somewhere between an hour and two -- and there were three of us plucking at the same time. It's really inconceivable how it can take us so long.

One thing that struck me yesterday at the Smithsonian exhibit ... they had a quote from someone local who was talking about butchering day. They said they'd have neighbors come over to help. That makes sense. I am also sure that practice makes it go a lot faster. So maybe we just need to do a lot more butchering to get really fast at it. The plucking is the time-consuming part, and the kids and I just pluck, pluck, pluck while Mike handles everything else. And the plucking is such a time-consuming part of it that he even winds up plucking too!

Even knowing that we have the poultry processor available, I am not terribly excited about raising turkeys this year. Prior to 2005, it was the most successful thing we did every year. But last year, we started with 100 turkey poults, and only 35 made it to Thanksgiving. Then, for some odd reason, most of them were very small. In the past, the bourbon reds were 10-16 pounds, but last year, they were 7 to 12 pounds! There are so many variables when you are not growing animals in "scientifically-controlled environments," so it's really impossible to figure out why they didn't get bigger. The broad-breasted bronze all grew to the expected sizes, which leads me to think that it wasn't anything in the feed or the environment. It was just something about this particular line of bourbon reds. Sadly, this led to some very unhappy customers who called and informed me that their Thanksgiving was ruined. One woman sounded like she was on the verge of tears. This was not what I had in mind when I wanted to raise turkeys. Frankly, I'd have been happy to keep most of the turkeys, because we were left with only three. I'd love to have turkey every month, and a 7-pound turkey would be perfect for us! We still have a month left before we start making concrete plans for the turkeys, so hopefully we'll figure out what we want to do by then.

What we really need to do today is ... get those baby chicks ordered, as well as all the supplies we need to restock the kidding/lambing box!

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Smithsonian in Chillicothe?

This afternoon Katherine and I went with another homeschooling mother-daughter to a traveling exhibit of the Smithsonian. The subject was American food history. The Smithsonian provided the national history exhibit, and a local historical society has to provide the local food history and the volunteers. We enjoyed the day thoroughly, although I was a bit dismayed by the gentleman who was showing us how to use a cream separator. He said that after the cream was separated, they used it for their coffee and threw away the skimmed milk. It surprised me that a man with gray hair would say that -- doesn't he know that people NEVER threw away good food "back then?" I said to another of the guides that if the people didn't want to use the skimmed milk, they would have fed it to their pigs or chickens.

"Chickens don't drink milk," she replied.

"Yes, they do. They love milk," I said. "When I make cheese, I give them the whey."

"But they're vegetarians."

"No, actually they're carnivores." (Okay really they're omnivores, but I was thinking on my feet, so give me a break.)

"Well, they'll peck at each other," she said.

"No, I've seen them tear a frog apart," I said as her faced changed to a look of shock bordering on horror. Not wanting to upset her day too much, I quickly added, "They also eat worms and bugs."

I didn't even get into the fact that skimmed milk can also be used to make bread, soup, gravy, etc. And I'm sure they used the cream for far more than "their coffee." He should have listened to the other man who showed us the butter churns -- and they were some mighty fancy looking butter churns!

This is really sad. These people are supposed to be educating the public, yet they don't know anything beyond what their training manual tells them. I suspect the man who said they threw away the skimmed milk was just guessing. He followed up his comment with, "Everyone drank raw milk back then." So he didn't know the difference between pasteurized and homogenized milk either. Is our food history really becoming so obscure? Pasteurized milk is heat treated. Homogenized milk has been mixed to the point that the cream won't separate and rise to the top. In other words, skimmed milk is still raw milk, unless you heat it.

I was very pleased that the woman who did the open-hearth cooking talk was quite knowledgeable about her area of expertise. She talked about making soap and cheese and using a real Dutch oven -- the big cast iron Dutch oven with hot coals -- to bake bread, pies, biscuits, even pizza! Afterwards, she and I chatted about my interest in forgotten household crafts, and she said that if I enjoyed giving talks and demonstrations, she'd be happy to send me a long list of groups who are always looking for people to do that ... so I came home with her email address. She also gave me an idea on where I might find a nitrate-free recipe for making ham and bacon!

Another interesting exchange ... normally I am able to keep my enthusiasm reigned in, so that I'm not gushing about my life out here, but being around all of the "stuff" at the exhibit that is part of my everyday life, I wasn't as restrained as normal. First of all, it amazes me that most people just don't "get it" when I say that we were suburbanites until 2002. I hardly knew one end of the milk goat from the other, but I've studied and learned. So, maybe I should not have been surprised by this woman's comment when I said that once you get used to fresh food, you can't go back, and I specifically mentioned that I wouldn't buy commercially produced eggs ever again. Fresh eggs are just so much better.

"Yeah, but you're used to that."

I stood there, mouth agape, thinking about asking her if it was a bad thing that I'm used to fresh eggs. "The eggs in the store are old," I said hesitantly, "and they just go splat when you break them, rather than standing up like a fresh egg."

"But I'm not used to that."

Well, I wasn't used to that either four years ago! But it's not very hard to get used to fresh eggs. As I was trying to figure out what to say next, I was saved by someone else walking up and starting a new conversation. Whew! I'm still wondering why it's a bad thing that I'm now accustomed to fresh eggs.

The strangest thing about this woman is that she lives in the country. She could have a little flock of chickens to have her own fresh eggs, but like most people who live in the country today, she chooses to continue buying eggs at the store.

Winter catalogs and harsh realities

I love winter now! I used to hate it when we lived in the suburbs, because it was dark and cold with no redeeming qualities once Christmas had passed. But now I see it as the time of hibernation, renewal, rejuvenation and planning! After Christmas, all of the catalogs from the seed companies and the hatcheries start to arrive. We start flipping through them, trying to decide between the thousands of different varieties of heirloom vegatables and the dozens of varieties of chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks. We even dream about someday having peafowl, partridge and quail.

My daughters choose four varieties of chickens to order. The only real requirement I place upon them is that they must choose dual purpose breeds -- those that produce roosters big enough for a good dinner AND hens who are decent egg layers. A century ago, most breeds were dual purpose, but with the advent of factory farming, the best egg layers produce scrawny roosters, and the best meat chickens are dreadful egg layers.

Although I am in no hurry to get chickens, the girls are! For their chickens to be competetive at the 4-H Fair in July, they need to be hatched NOW. If they are hatched in March or later, they won't be fully developed in time for the fair, and they will not place well, simply because they are not mature enough. The only problem with this is that chickens are purchased through the mail. Yes, they are mailed to us from the hatchery. The only year that we got chicks in February, half of them arrived dead -- froze to death -- but my daughter placed first in the fair. The lady at the post office said it really depends on the truck driver -- if he's smart enough to put the box of chicks in the cab with him, they'll arrive fine, but some of them will put the chicks in the back with the other packages, where temperatures are just too cold. Using the postal service to deliver chicks is a double-edged sword. Without them, many breeds would become rare or non-existent, at least in certain parts of the country. But by shipping chicks this way, you are going to loose some of the individuals. Is it worth it? The poultry industry thinks so.

Beginner's luck?

Some might say there is no such thing as beginniner's luck, and I might be inclined to agree, even though our own personal experience on the farm would seem to contradict that idea. Our first year or two with goats, sheep, cows, rabbits, turkeys, chickens -- indeed, every animal -- seemed to be practically perfect in every way. Everyone got pregnant instantly. No one needed assistance with birthing. We had close to 100% fertility with hatching eggs -- both chickens and turkeys. All the bunnies, kids, lambs and calves survived. Maybe there was a touch of beginner's luck in there.

During the third kidding season, 2004, we found ourselves tube-feeding our first kid AND our second. We had our first kid die. We had our first issues with breeding -- Star, our best milk goat wasn't getting pregnant. During our second lambing season, we had a lamb born without an anus, a ewe with a retained placenta, a ewe who ran around the pasture for 45 minutes with a lamb's head hanging out of her, and a ewe whose udder was so overful with milk that her Jersey-sized teats were impossible for her little lambs to nurse from. The second time our French angora rabbit had babies, she ate them. The hatch rate of our turkey eggs was about 25% during our second year -- for both setting hens and the incubator, so I can't blame either hatching practice. Although our first (and only) calves survived and thrived in the pasture with their mothers, training them was another matter, and less than two years later, they were in the freezer.

Although some of the not-so-great things could be attributed to just plain bad luck, a lot of it could have been due to the fact that we had enough knowledge at that point to be detrimental. In the beginning, we did everything "by the book," from breeding to kidding, and we were meticulous. It was all so new and exciting. ( New things are always fun -- I'll never forget how many times I vacuumed my carpet the first week I had a new vacuum cleaner.) The first time we hatched eggs in the incubator, everyone in the family turned them multiple times every day. The first time we bred our goats, we were so excited about having kids that we marked the calendars and waited impatiently for the big day to arrive. Then we sat with the goats from the first sign of labor, reading our goat books over and over again while we sat in the freezing barn the first week of March.

But as we became accustomed to life on the farm, we may have relaxed a bit too much. The ewe's retained placenta could have been a mineral deficiency, because no one had noticed their mineral block was all used up a couple months before kidding. Although I don't know why the hens had difficulty hatching eggs the second year, our forgetfulness about turning the eggs probably contributed to the low hatch rate in the incubator.

We may not have needed to tube feed that kid if we had been there when she was born. Her mama had three babies so quickly, she was unable to get all three of them cleaned up, and with the low temperature in the barn, the mucous-covered kid quickly became chilled and too weak to nurse. Of course, we had been there for two straight days already. If only we hadn't noticed the mama's first twinge of labor, we would have been more patient in the beginning and left her alone when we didn't need to be there. After two days of goat sitting, we no longer trusted our observation that kidding time was getting closer.

Sometimes, perhaps we relied too much on the books and experts, rather than just using common sense. When Star wouldn't get pregnant, I called the Univeristy of Illinois Vet Clinic. The local vet did blood work. We gave her hormones. Then after almost a year of trying, I finally decided to put her in a pen with a buck for a month. Even though I never saw any signs of her being in heat, five months later, she gave birth to beautiful triplets. Sometimes the simplest, most natural approach works best.

What appears to be good luck is more than just the absence of bad luck. It was just plain bad luck to have a lamb born without an anus. I wouldn't say we've been lucky that most of our babies have been born with all the necessary parts. That's the way it normally works. But even if they are born with all the necessary parts, their chance to survive isn't going to be as great if we haven't done everything we can to ensure positive outcomes.

With spring just around the corner and our first goat due to kid on Feb. 14, these are the things on my mind today. It's time to restock the kidding and lambing box with supplies and make sure we have plenty of clean, dry towels. But beyond the obvious, we also need the wisdom to know when to sit on our hands and let nature take its course and when to intervene. If only it were as easy to acquire that wisdom as it is to acquire another mineral block!


Related Posts with Thumbnails