Friday, December 28, 2007

A Christmas to remember

No, I didn't receive some longed-for gift. We did not have a visit from some long-lost relative. We did not even have a meal that was particularly memorable. We did have a priceless experience, although less than joyous. We had our first middle-of-the-night kidding emergency.

The goat's pelvis was so tiny, we couldn't get the kid out, so we took her to the vet, expecting a c-section. He used to raise pygmies, however, so he had lots of personal experience with such problems. He tied ropes to the kid's front legs, and Katherine and I held Giselle and braced ourselves on the opposite side of the table. At times, my brain screamed inside my head, "Just cut her open already! Do the damn c-section!" But I kept reminding myself that he used to raise pygmies and had probably done this lots of times. Finally, after 15 minutes of pulling, a little buck emerged, looking half dead. Katherine squealed with excitement, but as the vet briskly rubbed the kid, he said, "He still might not make it," and then he handed the kid to Katherine. After a few minutes, the limp kid gained some muscle control and was able to hold his tongue in his mouth. We allowed ourselves to get hopeful.

Giselle wanted nothing to do with him. She would not look at him, much less sniff him or lick him like a normal mama goat. When I tried to latch him on to nurse, she acted as if nothing were happening to her udder. Her baby did not exist. So, we have a house goat. He is our first boy in the house, and Katherine is trying to litter box train him. We've trained previous goats to towels, but then realized that they can't tell the difference between a towel and a carpet. Oops. We're hoping this will work better.

After considering St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle, and Rudolph, we finally settled on Nick as the kid's name. Since his mama had such a hard time kidding, he will definitely be castrated. We don't want to pass along those genes. We certainly don't need any more pet goats, but it's going to be hard to let this little boy go!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Agritourism vs. working on the farm

Funny how I was just talking about requiring turkey customers to spend a day on our farm, and today I read this in the NY Times: Down on the Farm With Your Sleeves Rolled Up, an article about agritourism, where farms charge people to visit and sometimes work.

I really don't like the idea of agritourism, as I think people visiting farms for sleigh rides completely miss the point that most people need to understand -- it takes work to grow food in a way that is sustainable. I really don't think anyone learns much of importance by taking a sleigh ride in the country or feeding a baby animal for 10 minutes. In some ways it might even do more harm than good. Sleigh rides and baby animals are fun, and while that is part of farm life, it's only one tiny segment of it. When that is the only thing that people see, they get the idea that farm life is this Utopian existence. It's not. I love living out here, but not because it's perfect. Like Thoreau, I appreciate all parts of it, the joyful, the confusing, and the devastating. Learning to live with nature is a constant learning experience. One never knows all the answers, and each new day is filled with opportunities and surprises, some wonderful and some not.

Little of that knowledge is obtained in the few minutes it takes to feed a baby animal, and none of it during a sleigh ride. You might begin to get an appreciation of it in a day, but to really understand farm life, it would take at least a few days or a week. And it's not just any week. We're hibernating during winter, the garden is frozen over, and the animals are just hanging out too. There are some days in spring where I feel like I've lived a month in 12 hours. Summer is not too crazy, but as fall draws near, we're kicking into high gear again, trying to prepare for winter. Maybe this is why some people say I should write a book. I suppose this is my passion -- I really want people to understand where their food comes from.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My busiest day of the year

Yesterday was exhausting. I woke up at 3 a.m. after only four hours of broken sleep. By 4:10 we were driving down the road towards Arthur, where we get our turkeys processed. We pulled into the parking lot at 6:35 and waited almost two hours to start unloading. We had the misfortune to arrive after a couple of trailers that had a few hundred turkeys in them. As we were waiting, I said to Katherine, "You know, I've never seen a bird get loose here." Then I immediately knocked on something I thought was wood.

When it was our turn, Katherine caught the turkeys, handed them to me, and then I handed them to the man who was responsible for hanging them upside-down by their feet on an overhead conveyor system. Another man quickly cut their throats, and within seconds, they were dead. It is probably a much better end than the turkeys at home will have, and it was something that I thought about yesterday. We kept two turkey hens here -- we still have a gobbler from last year -- hoping they'll hatch poults next year. But we've also been having coyote problems, and dieing in the jaws of a coyote is not a pleasant way to go.

We had almost finished unloading. Only two turkeys remained, and as Katherine tried to grab one, the other decided to make a break for it. She flew right past me. I tried to grab her, but she slipped through my fingers and started to fly. The first thought that flew through my head was, "Damn heritage turkeys!" and I realized that the reason none of the trailers full of turkeys ever have any escapees is because they're all broad-breasted mutants who can't fly! Lucky for us, she landed between a car and a wall, so she was trapped. A man grabbed her before she realized she could have run under the car, and she is now in the refrigerator.

After the turkeys were unloaded, we went to breakfast and then shopping at Beachy Bulk Foods and Country Salvage. I love buying kitchen equipment down there because unlike most Americans, the Amish cook at home, and not being wealthy, they buy good-quality, practical kitchen supplies. It is the best place to buy knives -- the only place I've seen that sells something called a "butcher knife." I bought several knives and a diamond knife sharpener, as well as a variety of flours and grains not available at the average supermarket.

We arrived back home at 4:30, which is when the real work begins for me, if you don't count the five hours of driving as work. Katherine called out the weights of the individual turkeys as I wrote them on a pad of paper. Then I came inside and started matching them up with the weights on the reservations. I also realized that we didn't have enough room in the refrigerators for the turkeys, so we had to make room for them. That meant taking out a lot of milk and making cheese! I poured milk into a pot on the stove to be pasteurized while I sent out emails to all the turkey customers, giving them their weights, balance due, and expected time of delivery on Wednesday. Then I went back into the kitchen -- it was past 10 p.m. by then -- to make cheese.

I'm glad I only have one day like this once a year. We did have a few moments of insanity as we were trying to get all the turkeys into the refrigerators, and oddly enough, it was my oldest daughter who was swearing off turkeys next year, rather than me. The good news is that everyone is happy with their turkeys, even though some are as much as 3-4 pounds less than what they'd requested originally. I do think I'll raise turkeys again next year, although I am contemplating ways to make it less crazy. Probably the biggest factor in "craziness" is having the turkeys processed just before Thanksgiving. So I am considering a processing date well in advance of the holiday. That would mean the turkeys would be frozen, but it would also mean a much calmer process for me.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Thanksgiving madness

It's that time of year again -- the time when I start thinking that we really should not be selling our meat. If you've been reading this blog in past Novembers, you might remember that I get a little crazy this time of year. The insanity is contagious and is transmitted through emails and phone calls. The disease starts with the turkey customers, and after a few emails and phone calls, I start to lose it and swear never again to sell turkeys for Thanksgiving.

The emails started last week -- people who wanted to make sure their turkey was still coming next week. It's not so bad when the emails are from people who actually sent in their deposit and reservation form, but one particular man had not done that. Let's call him Homer. He's been a thorn in my side for two or three years now. He's a Chicago lawyer, and if I had to guess, I'd assume he's the ambulance-chasing variety, rather than the honorable type. Homer sends me an email asking when his turkey would be delivered. I email him back saying that we don't have a reservation or deposit from him. He emails me saying that he is certain he reserved a turkey last year right after Thanksgiving. I check my email log, and sure enough, there is an email from Homer saying how great the turkey was, and he'd be getting another one next year. I email him back to say, "Sorry but we can't hold turkeys based on such emails. We need the reservation form and the deposit." I also explain about how we've only got a couple turkeys left, but apparently I wasn't clear on the fact that they would be small. He writes back thanking me for squeezing him in and telling me that 13 pounds would be perfect. [cue primal scream]

It's interesting how people want humanely-raised meat from small, local farms, but they don't want to deal with the reality of that choice. They are seriously stuck in the supermarket mindset. "Yes, I'd like a 14.5 pound turkey." We can't do that! I wrote Homer another email being as blunt as I possibly could. We have only 27 turkeys, and they only grow as big as they grow. Their weights fit a bell curve perfectly, and we take reservations based on that. Most people want big turkeys, so if you contact me in November, you're getting something small -- if anything at all. We can't "squeeze in" another order. I can't make a 13-pound turkey appear out of nowhere!

Monday is D-day for the turkeys. I'll be getting up before dawn to make the drive to the turkey processor. In spite of the early rising, it is usually a fun day for me. The processor is in Amish country, so I spend the day visiting the Amish shops and eating at Amish restaurants. It's a long day though, and we don't get home until after dark. Then I have to write down the weights of all the turkeys and match them to the reservations, essentially putting a customer's name to every turkey. Then I email everyone with the exact weight of their turkey, balance due, and the time my husband will be delivering the turkeys. It winds up being an 18-20 hour day. If that is followed by angry or hysterical phone calls from people who are upset that their turkey isn't big enough, well ... you can see where I start to go into hermit mode and declare that we'll just be raising turkeys for ourselves in the future.

On the other hand, when I read books like Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle or Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, it reminds me that we are doing something important. Still, I feel like people should be more involved in where their food comes from. Every now and then I get these crazy ideas -- like only selling to people who have actually come out here and spent a day on the farm, seeing what we do and maybe even helping us for the day. I can hear the screams now, "But I don't have time!" The average American watches 28 hours of television a week, yet they don't have time to plant a garden, shop at a farmer's market, or visit a local farm to see how their food is grown. More than 60% of Americans are overweight, but they'd rather go to a gym to work out so they can continue watching television and eating processed foods.

I suppose some people might think we're just trying to get free labor, but having a green city slicker out here would not be beneficial to us, since we'd spend more time explaining how to do something than they would actually spend working. There are farms where they actually charge people for such an experience. As for me, I just want people to understand where their food comes from. I want them to understand that we can't grow a turkey to an exact size. We can't always stop the coyotes from coming into our pasture and eating our lambs or chickens. When you want animals naturally grown, you cannot control everything. We do not grow animals under scientifically-controlled conditions, which means everything -- weather, predators, parasites -- can affect them. Is this so crazy?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Near miss -- and a loss

Last night I was in the basement when I heard a screeching bird. I wasn't even sure which type of bird -- chicken or turkey? I didn't think it was a duck or a goose though. It was definitely a bad sound, but I knew that by the time I got up the stairs and out the door, everything would be over. Luckily Katherine was closer to the situation.

It appears there was a scuffle in front of the barn. There were turkey feathers on the ground, and there was a very upset turkey hen sitting on the fence with only three tail feathers that looked "slobbery," according to Katherine. She also said there was a goose stuck in the fence. As she was freeing the goose, she saw something out of the corner of her eye run into the woods. I don't know what spooked it and caused it to give up on its turkey dinner, but I'm glad it decided to move on.

Two weeks ago, another goose wasn't so lucky. I was eating my breakfast, looking out the window at the pond, loving my idyllic view. Then in the glass of my china cabinet, I saw a reflection of something large and brown struggling with something white. I jumped up and ran to the dining room door in time to see a coyote dragging off a goose. I threw open the door and started screaming. I heard a scream coming from an upstairs window, and a moment later, Katherine was on the deck with me. She informed me that she was going after it. Mike and I have both tried to track coyotes with prey and have had no luck, so it seemed pointless to me. I felt defeated.

After 15 or 20 minutes, Katherine emerged from the woods carrying the goose. It was easy to tell that it was quite dead. Its long neck was hanging down from her arms. I wasn't sure if I was happy or not. The goose was dead, and there was still a hungry coyote in the woods.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Long night

I felt like a slug, sliding out of bed at 8:30 this morning, but I'd only had about five hours of sleep at that point. My body ached. Was it a hangover, or did a truck run over me while I was sleeping? Neither. I'm one of those people who needs her eight hours every night. Last night, I was awakened by our barking dog and yipping coyotes around 1:30. Just as I was about to fall back asleep, they started up again. Then at 3:30 a howl sounded like one was right outside our bedroom window. I shrieked and was on my feet running for the window before my brain could even register what my body was doing. With only half a moon lighting up the landscape, I couldn't see much, and I didn't see the coyotes. My husband was on his way down the stairs and out the back door.

Shoving open the window, I realized there were two packs of coyotes. The loudest ones were just to the east of the pond, and they seemed to be competing with a pack to the southwest and a bit farther from our house. That's the direction of the goats that are across the creek. They're being guarded by the donkey who tangled with coyotes a month ago. How could I go to sleep with all of that racing through my mind? I was also thinking about finding the sheep to the east side of the pond two nights ago -- and hoping they'd had the good sense to stay in their pasture last night.

At 8:30 this morning, my husband called from work to wake me up. Margaret answered the phone, and he asked her to go check on the sheep before waking me. Luckily, she was able to report that they were all safely in their pasture.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Life on the farm is slowing down. It usually slows down this time of year because the weather forces us inside, but this year, the weather has been unseasonably warm. We've tried to keep pushing ourselves to do all the things we want to do, like building a potting shed. It is just not happening. We're tired. I am beginning to understand the wisdom of the seasons. We work, then we hibernate. Even though the climate is changing, we're not. We still need our rest, our hibernation. It's hard to explain how it feels to keep trying to push ourselves. Somehow our bodies or our subconscious minds just know that the working season is past.

The leaves are finally starting to change. Normally they change much earlier. The first week of October is usually a beautiful golden, red, and yellow display of color in the woods. Here we are, almost three weeks past that time, and we are starting to get a few brownish-yellow leaves on the hickory trees. The leaves on the oak trees are still green. A couple weeks ago, temperatures were hitting 90 degrees, and this weekend is supposed to be in the upper 70s again. We still haven't had a freeze. The part of me that loves fresh food from the garden is happy about that, but I know there is a much bigger picture here. Climate change is happening, and I'm seeing it on my own little piece of the earth. Every year our pond is frozen for fewer days, but seeing the change in fall foliage is more startling.

The drought has also caused problems. Our hay field pretty much died. At least everything useful died. It is now filling up with weeds. If it had a good fence around it, it would be a perfect place to put goats. They love weeds! But there is an old rusty barbed wire fence around it, so it's worthless as a pasture. The price of hay has gone up, but I should consider myself lucky that I was able to find grass for $3 a bale and alfalfa for $4 a bale. More than one person told me that they've heard of $6-7 a bale. Just a few years ago, it was $2 a bale for alfalfa.

A couple days ago we got our second rain in six weeks. Remember, six weeks ago we had two floods in one week -- or was it eight weeks ago?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Centuries collide

Today would have been a great day if I didn't live in the 21st century and if my only obligations were on this farm. I made cheese yesterday, which of course, migrated into today, because it has to drain overnight. Then this morning, I blanched and froze nine pounds of tomatoes. It was when I started making soap that the day turned to ...

My first batch of soap seized, and it was totally my fault. For the non-soapmakers out there, seizing is like winding up with mashed potatoes when you want pudding. Imagine trying to get thick mashed potatoes into a mold. Doesn't work. You need a pudding consistency to pour into molds. Mashed potatoes don't pour. So, how did I wind up in self-deprecating pity and angst? I was trying to teach my youngest how to make soap, and I should have been paying closer attention. She got the oils so hot that we should not have been using them to make soap. But after an hour, the oils were still 120 degrees, and I was impatient. Using the fragrance oil that I was using, I knew that I should not start mixing until the oils were down to 100 degrees, but the day was wearing on, and I started mixing. As predicted, I had mashed potatoes in no time. I was freaking out. Katherine asked me what to do, and I said that I had never had this happen so badly before. The soap was hardening in the pot! I had read about rebatching, but I've never done it -- and it's probably been three or four years since I read about it. But I added a cup of water to the pot and put it on stove. In no time, I had a soupy consistency of soap. Katherine stirred for a few minutes, and we poured it into molds. It will be interesting to see what we wind up with.

For the second batch (plan was to make four batches today), I got all the oils measured and melted except the olive oil, and I got the milk measured. When I went to weigh the lye, the scale stopped working. I thought it was the battery, but I put a new battery in there, and it still didn't work. I saw water in the display, and upon further investigation, I discovered that Jonathan had WASHED the digital scale. It's kind of amazing that it worked at all. So, I am stuck with a bunch of mixed up oils that are now getting hard.

I had a long list of things to do today, including farm chores and school assignments, as well as grading for the classes I'm teaching. I was so excited about the prospect of today. I thought it was going to be one of those days that ended with a huge feeling of accomplishment. Instead, I'm just frustrated. And as I'm typing, I hear the coyotes howling outside. I thought that was yesterday's news, but I am starting to wonder if they'll ever leave.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Nothing new

Nothing new on the predator front. We still have one person spending the night in the pasture, and several nights, a second person has gone running out there when we heard the coyotes howling and yipping. We have yet to actually see a coyote, but we haven't lost any more sheep. This is ridiculous and frustrating, but no one is willing to say that we should stop spending the night out there because we're afraid we'll lose more lambs.


We've been busy lately. As the days are getting cooler, we're reminded that winter is just around the corner, and we still have work to do before we're hibernating.

Yesterday, Mike and I put up a new woven wire fence along the east side of the near pasture. There was an electric fence there when we moved here, but it was woefully inadequte for goats. We moved the original three wires closer together and added three more wire, thinking that would do the trick. That worked for a few years, but then the naughty goats were born. I guess I can't blame them entirely. I don't think it's a coincidence that they were bottle-fed and spent many days in our house and in our yard. They know the world doesn't end at that fence. So, for the past two years, those little girls have been going through the electric fence as if it were merely a tickle. After all, it was worth it when there were delicious weeds and apple tree bark on the other side. If you've been reading for a while, you know that they killed four apple trees last winter by stripping the bark from them.

So, yesterday we put woven wire between the pasture and the yard. Knowing that Lizzie also is a jumper -- our first -- we made the electric fence higher on the south side, and we added ground wires, so if she touches them in mid-air, she will still be shocked. One must be grounded to be shocked, so if she touched the wires while her feet were in the air, she wouldn't be shocked at all. After working all morning to upgrade the fencing, Katherine arrived home from church to burst our bubble. "What did you do to the fence between the near and middle pasture?" As the word, "Nothing" came from our lips, we knew our work was in vain. Lizzie and Shirley are really too smart for their own good. They will realize quickly that they can go into the middle pasture then go through the south fence to freedom. So, all we've really done is made their trip to the apple trees a minute longer.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Predator update

We haven't lost any more lambs. (knock on wood) After five nights of us sitting in the pasture all night, waiting for a coyote to show up, we finally decided that our presence is keeping them away. For the past two nights, we've had a tent out there with someone just sleeping.

The dog has barked less in this past week than in any single night in the past year. Once or twice a night, he'll make a soft little bark and trot towards the fence, but that's it. We don't even hear him in the house. Last night, we were having dinner at sunset, and he suddenly started barking viciously. Mike and Katherine both ran for the pasture. The dog was barking fiercely at the fence towards the woods, but after the humans arrived, his barking subsided and then stopped. We know from experience that he would not stop barking just because we were there, so the threat must have moved on.

I wish the news were as good for the ducks. We are down to seven -- we had 14. Yesterday morning at 6:15, we heard a duck wildly quacking, but by the time Mike got to the window, he didn't see any sign of the quacking duck or a predator. The quacking had stopped, and he counted only seven ducks. There had been eight the night before. With the ducks being completely free range, I'm afraid there is not an easy answer to keeping them safe.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Night shift

Someone pointed out that we are probably dealing with a pack of coyotes, which explains why our dog can't handle the situation. He is chasing some of them while one grabs a lamb. Regardless of how many are out there, we are spending the night in the pasture now. My shift is 8 to midnight. My oldest daughter does midnight to 5 a.m., and my youngest daughter is there from 5 to 8 a.m. I think our presence is probably enough to deter them, since coyotes are shy animals and don't like humans. We do hear them sometimes, but they aren't getting very close.

It's time for my shift now. Gotta run!

Monday, September 3, 2007


The total lamb loss is now six, leaving us with only four lambs, including Princess, who is living in the barn. This evening, we tried to catch the lambs, so we could put the rest of them in the barn, but that was more ridiculous than I'd anticipated. Finally, we decided that my oldest daughter would sit outside all night with a gun. Mike has to teach in the morning, so he needs his sleep. Before you think this sounds too "old west," I'll add that she'll keep herself awake by watching her video iPod. She just received it in the mail a couple days ago, and she's already downloaded two movies, two episodes of M*A*S*H, and an episode of The Simpsons.

The livestock guardian dog was out there last night, so I'm not sure how the last lamb was taken, other than to assume that the LGD was in the wrong pasture. He can go between two pastures, and for some reason unbeknownst to us humans, he doesn't like the pasture where the sheep are currently grazing. Still, each pasture is no more than two acres, and he should have certainly known what was happening so close. We're terribly disappointed in him.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Predator problem

We lost two more lambs, so two days ago, we decided to put the livestock guardian dog, Sovalye, into the pasture with the sheep. We've never been able to put him in there before, because he and one of the rams would get into a fight instantly. That ram became dog food this year after almost breaking my hand and destroying every fencepost, fence, and gate that he encountered. The idea of putting the dog with the sheep was something that I had not considered before, but then I noticed some of the sheep were getting into the goat pasture when the fence stopped working, and Sovalye was ignoring them. So, two days ago, I took him into the pasture with the sheep. I had him on lead and first walked him around the perimeter, then walked him up to the sheep. Neither he nor the sheep seemed particularly interested in each other, so I took off the lead. Sovalye laid down and closed his eyes!

He's been in there two night now, and we've lost no more lambs. We have, however, lost ducks. We got baby Cayuga ducks in July to replace the ducks we lost to predators this spring. Now we're down to only 12 ducks of the 15 we had. Tonight we are going to see if it's possible to get them into the chicken coop. I certainly hope so, because I'm sick of losing my babies!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sunny skies

The bad weather finally seems to be behind us. In addition to no rain the past two days, we've also had very pleasant temperatures. Unfortunately, we've lost a second lamb. I find it hard to believe that a lamb would wander into flood waters and wonder if a coyote got the two lambs that disappeared. The side effect of flooding is that the electric fencing does not work. I know the electric fence stops coyotes because we've seen coyote tracks in the snow heading up to the fence, then there is a "mess" of snow, which the coyote probably scattered when he got shocked by the fence, and there are footprints going away. In addition to getting shorted out, the fences also catch lots of debris, like grass and limbs. Mike spent a few hours yesterday cleaning them up, re-attaching the wires, and weed wacking the grasses under the wires, so hopefully we won't lose any more lambs.

Goats in the news

I've been seeing more and more articles about goats being used to eat brush and weeds. Here is another one:
Goats enrolled to solve UW maintenance problem

Thursday, August 23, 2007

And another flood

The flood waters finally receded yesterday following two days of rain. Tonight, the rain started again. Within less than two hours, the patio -- now called "the mote" -- was flooded again. We have cinder blocks lined up across it so we could get from the house to the driveway without wading through water, and the water is now less than an inch from the top of the blocks, meaning that we had about six inches in less than two hours.

As soon as Katherine noticed the patio was flooded, I realized this meant the middle pasture was probably flooded again. The ewe lamb that was lost on Monday has not been found, and not wanting to lose another lamb or sheep, I sent Katherine to make sure that the sheep were all on top of the hill, rather than at the bottom of the hill where they would get cut off from dry land as the waters rise. We couldn't find a working flashlight, so she went without. It took a while for her to return because she had to wait for the lightening strikes to illuminate the pasture to be able to count the sheep. I had insisted that if she spotted trouble, she was to immediately return to the house so we could come up with plan to deal with the situation. Katherine is infamous for handling things on her own -- even if it is dangerous -- and the last thing I wanted was her swimming in flood waters again. When she finally returned, she said that all the sheep were accounted for, so we shall hope that they all stay at the top of the hill.

Nevertheless, it is going to be a long night. I usually fall asleep easily enough, because I'm exhausted by the end of the day, but when a loud thunderclap wakens me, I'll probably lie awake in bed for a few hours before I fall back asleep. It's just what I do. Margaret has pointed out the fact that it is completely worthless for me to lose sleep worrying every time it rains, but I can't seem to NOT worry when it's pouring outside, especially when I know it's going to flood. This is the first time we've lost an animal in a flood, but I'm afraid it won't be the last. The forecast is calling for another 24 hours of thunderstorms.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pigs, lambs, canning, and another flood

Life on the farm has been so busy the past couple weeks that there hasn't been time to do anything extra -- like writing in my blog. In fact, it's been so busy that we are not even getting everything done around here. There simply are not enough hours in a day. We have been harvesting vegetables from the garden, canning and pickling green beans and wax beans, freezing shredded zucchini, and freezing beans.

We got four new pigs a week ago. They are all boars. We moved the two older boars to another pen. They were approaching puberty, and it's too early for the gilts to be bred, so we separated them. That was an interesting experience. We were able to coax them outside the walnut grove with a pan of grain, but then moving them 100 yards proved to be more difficult than we'd hoped. Of course, by now, we always imagine that moving animals will be a challenge, but we hope we're wrong. We decided to see if Porter, the four-month-old English shepherd could be of help, and he certainly gave it his best shot. He does have amazing herding instincts. he would get the two of them about 1/4 of the way, the one would break away and run back to the fence where the gilts were. After about 15 minutes, we decided to stop, because he is a puppy, and they are not supposed to work that long, plus it was obvious he was tired, whether he wanted to admit it or not. His tongue was hanging out of his mouth, and he was panting hard. Still, he refused to stop trying, so Margaret had to hold him.

Mike picked up the pigs, which are close to 100 pounds now and carried them to their new pen. Of course, they squealed like they were being tortured -- why do pigs do that! And one of them was so upset he peed on Mike. Now I know where that disgusting pig-farm smell comes from. When pigs are not on pasture, the pee has nowhere to go and just sits there and stinks -- which is why pigs need plenty of space.

We've had more lambs, and we've lost one. We had a two-day flood that ended yesterday. As usual, the Shetlands were out grazing in a high spot that got surrounded by water. Katherine was able to get them to move across it to dry land, and everyone was accounted for at that time. But then later in the day, she went out there, and one of the ewes was screaming her head off. Her lamb was nowhere to be found and still has not shown up. We are assuming that she got caught up in the flood waters. It was thigh deep on Jonathan, who is 5'10" tall, and the current was swift, so it could have easily picked up a young Shetland lamb.

Princess is now living in the barn and hating it. She has become too active to live in the house. She runs around everywhere and pees everywhere and nibbles on everything, including power cords. When we are outside, she follows us around like a puppy. She is our shadow, regardless of which two-legger is out there. She clearly identifies with humans as "her" kind. I've taken her to the sheep pasture several times, and she is clueless. The first time I took her out there was four days after we brought her in the house, and her mother still recognized her. She called to her and came up to her. It looked like she was telling her welcome back -- "Let's go honey." But Princess had no idea that that was her mother. She stuck to me like glue. I've taken her out there several times since then, and Pocahontas still looks at her -- stares at her -- but she's stopped talking to her. She comes up sometimes and sniffs her, but it looks like she's given up. If a sheep can look at another being longingly, she is. It's really sad. One day I sat out there with her for an hour, hoping she would start playing with the other lambs, but she didn't. When one lamb came up and sniffed her, she jumped away. I was happy that by the end of the hour, she walked up to another lamb and sniffed him. Progress!

There is still so much to do before winter. Hay is scarce this year, so we need to get more pasture fenced for the sheep. We have more than enough pasture to support all of our animals over the course of a year, but without proper fencing, all that land is worthless.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Poodle sheep?

When I say that we shaved the lamb's back end, I mean we shaved the lamb's back end! We wanted to make sure we exposed all the maggots. Now we realize that Princess looks like a poodle, rather than a sheep.

No more new lambs, but this is Minerva's ram lamb that was born Saturday afternoon. She gave birth to him in the same dusty spot that Princess's mom lambed, and he got a bath from me! I wanted to give Princess and her sister a bath, but I was worried that Pocahontas would reject them because they might smell differently. After spending hours picking maggots out of Princess's back end, however, I realized that it would be no big deal at all to have a mom reject a baby. In that case I would just have to bottle feed the lamb. I took a bucket of warm water out there and rinsed him as well as I could, then I used the towel to continue cleaning him. I figured that as long as I didn't use anything with a scent, there shouldn't be a problem. And today, mom and lamb are still doing great!

Porter is still being hyper-attentive to Princess. The poor lamb can't go potty without his undivided attention. I thought I had finally succeeded in convincing him that he didn't need to clean her bottom as she was peeing, but then he started licking the grass after she walked away!

Today I was doing some school work on the bed in the guest room, and when Princess joined me, I just had to get the camera. She is just too cute! I think I might just be worse than a new mom!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Princess of Antiquity Oaks -- and another lamb

In the middle of yesterday afternoon, I took a break from picking maggots out of Princess's skin and went outside to see if the rest of the lambs looked okay. I knew I wouldn't be able to catch any of them by myself but hoped I could get close enough to see if any others might be having a problem with maggots. I had completely forgotten that there are still several ewes left to lamb. After getting as close as possible to the lambs and seeing nothing but healthy, "hoppy" lambs, I decided to go back into the house. As I passed a shelter, my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of something, and I suddenly remembered that we still have pregnant ewes! I ran to the shelter and found Minerva and a beautiful spotted ram lamb nursing. He was quite dirty, so I decided to wash him off in a bucket of water, hoping to give the flies nothing tempting enough in which to lay their eggs.

Today, Princess continues to improve. She is objecting to my poking and picking maggots, which is good. Yesterday was scary when she just laid there for hours motionless and quiet. Every hour or two I check the holes in her skin, and I wind up picking out another dozen or so maggots. Finally it looks like I have them all, but a couple hours later, there are more. Of course, our local farm supply store does not have the spray that was recommended by several of the women on my sheep list. They have almost nothing that I need. I wind up ordering most of my farm supplies on the Internet. So I am stuck with tweezers and hydrogen peroxide until the spray arrives via pony express.

Last night, I dreamt of -- what else -- maggots. After seeing them for so many hours, I really didn't expect much less. I got to bed around midnight, then Princess woke me at 3:30 wanting a bottle. I gave her three ounces of milk, and as I was washing the bottle, she started fussing, so I gave her two ounces more. Then I went back to bed, and every minute or so, she'd let out a tiny little bleat. After 15 minutes of that, I decided that she might need to potty and didn't want to do it in the crate, so I took her outside. The lamb and I stood in the light of the barn for another 15 minutes with Princess just looking at me and sticking close to my feet whenever I took a step in any direction. Finally, I picked her up and came inside. Knowing that she probably just wanted me to hold her, I sat down on the couch, trying to decide what to do. I'd have been happy to have her sleep with me except for the maggot issue. I knew I'd never fall asleep if there were real life maggots in my bed with me! Only a few seconds after I sat down, she leapt out of my arms, ran to the other end of the couch, squatted, and peed. I managed to shove a towel behind her before she actually started peeing, so the couch was saved. I put her back in her crate, and she was quiet until the sun rose.

Today she is spending all of her time either sitting in my lap or laying on a comforter that I put on the floor next to my computer chair. She has definitely bonded to her new human and canine family. I'm not sure if Porter, the English shepherd puppy thinks she is his new toy or his new baby. He keeps trying to play with her, no matter how many times I yell at him to stop, but he also insists on cleaning her bottom every time she goes outside to potty. I'm not quite sure how this will figure into his future as a sheep herding dog.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

A change in plans

This morning I got dressed to go into town to pick up my friend from Chicago at the train station. I was wearing my good jeans and a nice top. Before leaving though I wanted to check and see if White Feather had lambed yet. She'd been very talkative the night before, and I figured she might be in labor. I headed out to the pasture, and after seeing all the ewes and no new lambs, I turned to head back to the house.

Then I saw a black lamb lying next to the fence all alone. Her mother was nowhere near her, which is odd for such a young lamb. I walked up to her. Her eyes were open, and she didn't move as I bent over to pick her up. Most lambs would have been halfway across the pasture by then. I smelled something terrible as I picked her up. I lifted her tail, and it looked like she had diarrhea, so I quickly dropped the tail, hoping it would prevent the dreadful scent from reaching my nose. I tried to hold her away from my body, which was a struggle against my instinct of wanting to hold her close because I knew she was having problems. I reminded myself that I didn't want to have to change clothes. As I headed for the gate, her mother suddenly appeared and began to protest. I told her I was sorry, but her baby needed help. I saw Mike in another pasture and called to him. I just wanted him to take the lamb into the house for me, so I wouldn't get dirty.

After Mike took her, he looked under her tail and quickly said, "That's maggots!" Huh? I looked under her tail and realized that what I thought was diarrhea under her tail was moving! We ran to the house and started washing her back end with tea tree oil shampoo. Why? Because it was the only thing I had that I thought would be slightly more effective than plain shampoo. We soaped her up and rinsed her three times. Finally I suggested that we soap her up and stick her rear in a pan of warm water. Maybe we could drown the maggots? After about five minutes, she started to shiver, so we took her out of the water, rinsed her again and tried to pick the maggots out of her hair.

We realized that her wool was a problem, so we got her as dry as we could and started to shave her back half with my goat clippers. That helped make it easier to see the maggots and crush them. Then we decided to get tweezers. Mike sat down and started to pick at the maggots and I ran down to the computer to post a quick message on my sheep list and google "lamb maggots." Most of the information talked about why they dock lambs' tails -- so they won't get manure on the tails, which will attract flies, which will lay eggs, which will hatch into maggots and eat away at the lamb's flesh until it dies!

I made a quick call to a vet who I know used to raise sheep, even though she doesn't "do" sheep. Her receptionist gave her my message and called back to say that I should just continue doing what I'm doing. What? There are hundreds -- probably thousands -- of these little worms in this lamb's skin, and we're supposed to pick them off with tweezers! I found another shepherd's blog, and she talked about her experience picking out maggots with tweezers. The ladies on my Yahoo sheep group offered some tips and tons of support, which makes the group infinitely more valuable than any article that I read.

Three hours after I found the lamb in the pasture, I told Mike that all three of us needed a break. I had sent my son into town to pick up our Chicago guest, and I suggested that we ask them to bring home pizza. My nice jeans were soaked with bath water and lamb urine. For most of the three hours, the lamb laid in our laps motionless and quiet. We kept looking at her chest to make sure she was still breathing. While we waited for Jonathan to come home with our guest and the pizza, I warmed a bottle for the baby with fresh goat milk, then I took her outside, hoping she'd pee. I put her on the ground, and she just stood there looking at me. At least she can stand, I thought! I picked her up, and sat down in a chair under a huge oak tree, and she fell asleep in my lap.

Twelve hours after finding her in the pasture I can't believe how many maggots I've seen and how many I've squished. The lamb now has a name -- Princess -- against my better judgment. My brain just started spinning, even as I told myself not to give her a name yet. What if she doesn't make it? Her mama is Pocahontas, who was a Native American princess, and I'm sure this little girl is going to be quite the princess after being raised in the house. So she is Princess, and if I were a betting person, I'd bet that she'll make it now, although I wouldn't bet the farm on it. I'm still worried, but she is much better. She talks to me now, and she objects when I pick at the maggots. She jumps out of the laundry basket that I put her into, so I need to get a dog crate for her to sleep in tonight. She ran around the dining room and living room for a little while this evening, and now she's sleeping next to the basement door.

My friend from Chicago asked, "Is it really worth it? I know she's cute, but is it really worth it to spend all this time?" My answer at the moment was lame. "No one else is paying me to do anything else right now." But now that I've thought about it, I'd say, yes, it's definitely worth it. This is why I moved out here -- it wasn't to make money. It's Thoreau in my head again. I want to experience all of life -- not just a neat little package of experiences. Some parts of life are ugly -- this may be the ugliest so far. I can't think of anything more disgusting. I know I've never spent this many hours actively working to save an animal. Usually you give drugs, and they either work or they don't, and you just have to wait. In this case, we've spent hours picking maggots out of this little lambs skin. You can't put a price tag on it. It's ugly, and it's disgusting, but it's rewarding. I was originally going to pick up my friend and head to a winery, then come home for a dinner of goat cheese, homegrown chicken, green beans, and patty pan squash. So I didn't get to spend today at a winery. It'll still be there next week and next month. But today this little lamb needed someone to help her. How could I not have changed my plans?

Thursday, August 2, 2007


Katherine just came inside to tell me that we have nine ducklings! Our single muscovy duck has been setting -- again -- in the barn. She set a couple months ago, and we finally took her rotten, stinky eggs away from her. I'd love to know who Daddy is!

Twin rams

This morning, Katherine said that she heard a sheep screaming at 5 a.m. For whatever reason, she went back to sleep without saying anything or doing anything. Upon hearing this news at 9 a.m., Margaret and I immediately went outside and found that Fee had lambed with twin rams. Her udder was huge, and they were running around screaming, unlike most lambs, who are pretty quiet. It was obvious that they hadn't nursed. Fee's teats were the size of a large man's thumbs, which is far too large for a Shetland lamb. Most Shetland mamas have teats the size of one or two joints on a lady's pinkie finger. We brought Fee and her lambs into the barn, where we milked her and gave the babies a bottle. Having colostrum in their tummies gave them the encouragement they needed to keep trying to figure out how to nurse off mama's teats. Like her lambs two years ago, they are sucking on the side of the udder, on the side of the teats, and just about everywhere except where they need to be sucking. Two years ago, we only had to milk her and bottle feed the babies for about three days until her production slowed down and her babies figured out how to nurse on those huge teats. I hope it goes as well -- or better -- this time.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More babies!

Sunday, Margaret's white ewe, Ophelia, lambed with a single black ewe, and today, my ewe, Pocahontas, lambed with twin black ewes. The two ram lambs still appear to be sharing the two mamas. Part of me is certain that White Feather hasn't lambed yet, but today I think she looks smaller. She was quite wide last week. Then again, this morning, I really thought that White Feather had that "I 'm so sick of being pregnant" look on her face. I can't believe this is so confusing!

Since I was uploading baby pictures, I thought I'd post pictures of the new Cayuga ducklings that have been here since July 13. Earlier this year, coyotes got all of our ducks except one, and we've been watching the algae grow on our pond ever since. We had no idea that ducks ate so much algae! I hadn't seen that much algae on the pond since before we had ducks, and I recalled how the algae was all gone within a week of the ducks going onto the pond. I was really torn between Rouen ducks and Cayugas, but I finally decided on Cayugas because they are rare, and they are the only domesticated breed of duck that is native to the U.S. When they're fully grown, their feathers will have an emerald sheen.

And finally, I thought I should give an update on the pigs. They are living in the walnut grove, and although I hate having fences in pictures, it was really the only way to get a picture of them because they are constantly at my feet if I'm closer. I wish I could say it's because they're so friendly or because they like me so much, but the truth is that they just love food. I totally understand where all those cliches came from, such as "eat like a pig." The do love their food and always act like they're starving.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Who's your mama?

Yesterday, I took minerals out to the sheep, and when they came running, I counted them. Only 14 -- that meant two were missing. Since they are due to lamb, I immediately went looking for new mamas. I found two ewes and two lambs. Both ewes were taking an equal interest in the two lambs, and both lambs were nursing off both ewes! I watched them for quite some time and couldn't figure out which one belonged to whom! I checked the back ends of both ewes, and both looked kind of muddy, although I couldn't find any sign of blood on either one. Both looked a bit sunken between the ribs and pin bones, which usually happens when they give birth. Both are equally wide! I found one placenta, and I found what looked like a dried up umbilical cord. Today I went out there looking for more clues, but couldn't get any farther than I did yesterday. Both lambs are still going back and forth between the two ewes.

One thing I do know -- they are both rams. But then it gets kind of confusing again. I thought they were both black, but Margaret says one is chocolate. Sometimes I think she's right, but sometimes he looks very black. What a confusing start to lambing!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Peaches anyone?

Today I decided to walk around the yard with a camera. I've been meaning to do it, but there are always more important things to do, other than take pictures. However, since the rest of my family has declared today a holiday, I thought I would have some fun too!

At midnight, the seventh and final Harry Potter book was released. My three children were at Barnes and Noble to buy three copies. My eldest stayed up all night reading, and my other two children, and my husband are currently reading it. That means, it's a bit like a graveyard around here. The husband and two youngest are entranced by the book, whilst my oldest is walking around like a zombie since she hasn't slept in about 30 hours. She's trying to stay awake at least long enough that she doesn't go to bed and wake up at 9 p.m. bright eyed and bushy tailed. She has to go to work tomorrow morning at 9.

This leaves me feeling like I'm essentially home alone. I went outside and cut lemon balm, dusted it off, and put it onto a cookie sheet in the oven. I taped a piece of paper on the "bake" switch, so hopefully no one will accidentally turn on the oven without looking in there first! I don't want my lemon balm to be ruined for two years in a row. Last year, I got the bright idea to put it in one of our cars to dry. I went to check on it two days later and the leaves were indistinguishable from those leaves that fall from the trees in fall. They were completely brown and had not a single scent of anything beyond dried leaves. Silly me, I thought that would speed up the process, but some things just take time!

While cutting my lemon balm, I noticed a beautiful butterfly on the echinacea (purple coneflower), so I ran inside to grab the camera. It was nice enough to stick around until I returned, so I was able to get a few pictures. I love the "zoom" feature on my camera, because I was able to get this picture from across the driveway! That's when I remembered that I had been wanting to take some pictures of all the daylilies in bloom and the peaches. There are about 20 different daylilies in bloom at the moment, so these pictures are just a sample.

Last night's dinner from the farm: goat cheese, chicken, patty pan squash, and green beans.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Wool, fleeces, roving

Friday, Mike and I drove to LaOtto, Indiana, to deliver our wool to the mill to be carded. Having 19 fleeces this year, it would have cost a fortune to mail. And the mill co-owner had encouraged me to start washing our own fleeces. To entice me even more, he said that if we wash it and drive it over, they can card it while we're there and bring it home the same day. Compare that scenario to mailing and waiting several months to get the roving back, and you can see that it was quite tempting to finally dive in and do the washing ourselves. Apparently, there are not a lot of people who want to wash it themselves, so the backlog at the mill is in washing the fleeces. Laziness aside, I can see why people are reluctant to wash their own fleeces. If you do it incorrectly, you can wind up with a matted mess.

We have an old washing machine in one of our barns, however, we tried to use it once five years ago, and it wouldn't stop filling up. Pretty scary! We finally pulled the plug before it overflowed. Mike, being an electrical engineer and a professor of electrical engineering technology, loves to fix electrical things. (We were watching beta tapes for many years after everyone else had stopped.) I told him all he had to do was get the washing machine to fill up, spin, and drain, which he was able to accomplish in an hour or two. Another hour or two later, and he even had it agitating, even though I was happier when it didn't agitate, because you do not agitate fleeces! (They felt.) Then Mike volunteered to do the washing -- he said he could do it between other projects he was doing out there. It was a great plan, and in less than a month, we had all 19 fleeces ready to go!

We got out of bed at the crack of dawn Friday morning, and by 6:20, we were on the road headed east to Indiana. We attempted to take the direct route, which was through the countryside (rather than up, across, and down the interstate), and some of those roads are not marked very well, which meant we took a few wrong turns. We had hoped to arrive by 10 a.m. We thought we arrived at 11 a.m., but when we were talking to Matt, one of the co-owners, Mike noticed Matt's watch said noon! We had crossed into the eastern time zone! Doh!

It was great going to the mill, meeting Matt and Jamie in person, and seeing their operation. We came home with ideas for better washing our fleeces and preparing them for carding, although they said we did a great job of washing. Only one fleece of the 19 had a touch of lanolin left in it, so Mike was really proud of himself. The fleeces are absolutely beautiful, and we can hardly wait to start spinning, knitting, and crocheting! I am also looking at some of these spotted fleeces and thinking that I really need to learn how to weave!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tough decisions

After living out here for a few months, we were faced with a dilemma: What do you do with a rooster who attacks everyone? The answer became clear to us fairly quickly. He should become dinner. It felt rather medieval -- like Nero or Caesar being judge and jury, pronouncing the accused "guilty as charged" and then sentencing them to death.

For the past three years we've been living with a ram who has beaten up other rams, ripped up woven wire fencing, rammed fence posts until they've broken off at the ground, rammed gates until they've bent into crescents, and finally, rammed people whenever we've turned our backs on him. He actually rammed me last year when I was trying to get a goat's head out of the fence bordering his pasture. She had stuck her head through the woven wire next to a post, and she got herself stuck. I cradled her head between my two hands -- one hand was between her head and the post, and my other hand was on the outside of her head, which meant my hand happened to be in the ram's pasture. He quietly walked up to the fence and just watched me for a few seconds, then put his head down, and before I could react, he rammed his head against my hand. Although that hand hurt, I thought he might have broken the hand that was between the doe's head and the fence post. Luckily it was only bruised, scraped, and swollen.

I don't remember what was the final straw, but at some point over this past winter, I decided I had had enough, and I said that he was going to be butchered this summer when we took the lambs to the processor. Being an older ram, his meat will have a very strong taste, so he's going to be dog food, since we feed raw meat to the carnivores around here (dogs and cats). The livestock guardian will probably be very happy to eat him if he realizes who it is, and I think he might. He's tasted that ram's blood before. We once tried to put the dog into the pasture with the rams, and this particular ram lumbered quietly across the pasture until he got close to the dog, then RAM! That was a mistake. The dog immediately went into self defense mode, and he probably would have killed the ram if my husband had not been there to stop him.

Today was D-Day, as I call it when animals are being taken to the processor, and this ram, along with three yearling lambs went down the road. Wanting to make use of everything (as our ancestors did) and wanting to use natural products as opposed to synthetics, we decided that in addition to having the meat processed, we would also have the skins tanned. That's why today was chosen as D-Day. The sheep were sheared seven weeks ago, and a couple different sheep farmers said that six weeks is ideal for letting the wool grow to a good length before processing. Having skins tanned, however, is not as simple as it sounds. We thought we'd bring home the skins from the processor, salt them (to dry them and stop bacterial growth), then box them up and ship them to the tanner in a week or so. Since most of you probably don't want details on the exact condition of the skins that we brought home, I'll just say that they were -- um -- "messy." So, we spent the afternoon cleaning them up before salting them.

I didn't really mind the work, especially since Mike did all the hardest parts, but it gave me a lot of time to think about how the older ram had been a pain in the ____ (whatever body part he rammed you in), whereas the lambs had just been unlucky enough to be born male at a time when we had more than enough wethers for wool. A lot of work on a farm allows lots of time for thinking and contemplation, and this afternoon's work was one of those times.

This evening, I looked out the back door to see roosters fighting, and this was not a little garden-variety spat. One of the roosters (the oldest rooster we have) had a very bloody head. The other one is the same rooster that killed his brother last fall -- and he was clearly winning this fight. I blogged about those two back then. We try to butcher young roosters on a timely basis so that they don't wind up killing each other, but when we saw those two always together, it seemed so sweet. We talked about how if we did butcher one, we'd have to butcher the second one too, because he'd miss his brother too much. Well, one day I looked outside to see them fighting. The next morning, we found one of them in the chicken house, not moving, although not dead yet. One of the challenges of a natural life is that nature is brutal sometimes, and when roosters fight, it's not a quick death. That's my Cain and Abel story, and I figured there's no such thing as friendship when you're a rooster.

I quickly called Katherine and told her to take the injured rooster away and lock him up in a coop by himself, so he could hopefully heal. He was not opening one of his eyes, and that's a bad sign. I am hoping it wasn't pecked out. Then I told Katherine to catch the other rooster and lock him up separately, so he could become tomorrow's dinner. Most of the roosters get along well, but this one is definitely a trouble maker, and he really chose the wrong day to pick a fight with another rooster. After spending an afternoon thinking about my role as "empress" of the farm, I was in no mood to deal with a rooster who didn't want to live peacefully with the other chickens.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

What to buy -- or not

If you think parents always find themselves with unexpected expenses, try living on a farm. It's like I mentioned a year ago or so -- if you think it's bad having to keep a house clean, add a barn or two and a pasture to your responsibilities. Everything on a farm is like a family multiplied times three of four. And it's no different when it comes to buying things. With human kids, you have to buy shoes, clothes, musical instruments, and so on. With animals, you often find yourself needing to buy more animals, such as new males to breed the females to. I currently have a deposit down on a buckling (yet to be born) in Texas. I am also considering a new ram, because one of my ewes is related to all my rams. About a month ago, I finally bought a herding dog (puppy) after talking about it for a couple of years.

Porter is an English shepherd, one of the original breeds of "farm collies." He came from a sheep farm in Wisconsin, where his parents both herd sheep. He is a sweetie, but he is a puppy. He needs lots of attention and training at this point. My oldest daughter has agreed to take full responsibility for him, and she's doing a great job, even after three weeks.

Unlike our Anatolian shepherd, Porter will not live with the animals 24/7. Instead, his job will be to herd the sheep when we need to move them. That job has been getting harder and harder every year. Whoever said that sheep are dumb did not have Shetlands. They remember what we did last time to trick them into the barn, and they don't fall for the same thing twice. We are hoping that Porter will grow up to be a valuable asset to our farm and our family.

You may be wondering why the Anatolian shepherd can't help us with this. Well, the Anatolian breed has a misnomer of a name. It doesn't herd at all. It's just a guard dog. They hang out with the animals, bond with them, and protect them. And herding is all in the genetics. You have to have a dog with herding instincts to herd. English shepherds are herding dogs, and since they are not recognized by the AKC, it's probably easier to find dogs that still have those instincts. Once a dog is recognized by the AKC, it seems to be downhill from there, as people start breeding for the show ring and for pets. That's a problem with Great Pyrenees dogs. They were originally great livestock guardians in France, but they've become so popular as pets, the guarding of livestock has been bred out of them -- not intentionally bred out, but bred out by neglect. Like many people new to the farm, we tried GPs when we first moved out here, and we had a terrible experience. It's not impossible to find a good GP livestock guardian, but it's not easy. Like one lady said, most GPs today are just big marshmallows, and they make great pets.

Today's dinner from the farm: Chicken, zucchini and garlic!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Goslings hatched

Friday when we were running around getting ready for Saturday's goat show and Sunday's party, I noticed 2/3 of an egg shell near the goose that has been setting. Thursday, I had said to my husband, "When are those eggs going to hatch? It seems like she's been setting forever!" Then I added, "You know, when I say that, they usually hatch the next day." Sure enough, Friday, I saw the broken egg shell.

Saturday she got off the nest, and three little goslings followed. She left behind four unhatched eggs. They have been going down to the pond, which is scary for us because there are snapping turtles in there, and we've never been able to raise any ducklings as a result. Somehow, the Canada geese don't have a problem. Perhaps the babies are too big for the turtle to eat, or maybe they have just been lucky. The whole gaggle of geese are always surrounding the babies, which makes it hard to see the babies unless you're in a good position. I guess it takes a gaggle to raise a gosling.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Our first dual champion!

Scandal, one of our Nigerian dwarves, won her second and third legs of her permanent ADGA championship this weekend, making her a dual champion since she already finished her championship in AGS. This picture was taken after she won the Saturday show. We couldn't find a very nice place to take a picture because they had several inches of rain the night before.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Free-range chicken eggs

Just came across this link on the Web:
Supermarket vs. free-range chicken eggs
I actually read this article a couple years ago in the magazine. I'm glad they put it on the Internet, since it's easier to share with people. I need to create a permanent list of links on this page. There is a chart that shows you how free-range eggs are healthier than supermarket eggs.

I also was alerted to this cool article in The East Bay Express in California. It gives all the details about having chickens in your backyard, including the local ordinances for those who live in the Oakland, Calif. area. Although I'm glad that they have the article, I wonder if it makes it sound more difficult than it really is?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Chicken activist

As I continued research for my sermon yesterday morning, I found a great article that had just been published in the Seattle Times about a woman in Kent, Washington, who has three hens in her backyard to provide her family with eggs and her garden with manure. Life was good until a persnickety neighbor called the city and said Tami Jackson was in violation of the city codes that ban residents from raising chickens on lots smaller than 20,000 square feet. Jackson and several of her neighbors had no idea it was illegal to have chickens in their yards. It sounds like Jackson has been successful in convincing most of the city council to amend the code to allow residents to have three chickens if their lot is 5,000 square feet and one additional chicken for each additional thousand square feet of land.

People frequently ask me if I grew up on a farm. No, I didn't. I did, however, grow up with chickens in my backyard. We lived in a small Texas town, and since my parents had always lived on a farm until I was three years old, it was not a big deal to them to have chickens in our backyard. We usually had 10-20 hens, and we sold eggs to our friends and neighbors. I grew up thinking that all chickens ran around in grass and breathed fresh air. I was in my mid-20s when I learned about factory farming. At that point, I wished I could have my own chickens again, but since my husband was in the Navy, and we frequently moved -- and we lived in cities -- I didn't think it was possible. Our egg consumption was cut to almost zero. We only used eggs for baking and an occasional quiche. Unlike most children, mine did not grow up eating eggs. A year before we finally moved to the country, I found a little farm where I could buy fresh eggs, and I was thrilled.

Now that I have chickens, I'll never be without them again. Even when I'm old and gray, and even if I'm in a wheelchair, I'll still have at least three or four hens. They're not any more difficult to raise than a cat -- they're easier than a dog -- and the reward of their delicious eggs is well worth the effort.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Kindred spirits -- or not

Tomorrow I'll be giving a sermon at church. My theme is Aldo Leopold's quote,

[T]here are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.

So, I'll be talking about what you learn living on a farm. As I am preparing for this, my mind keeps hearing people say, "Well, that's great for you, but most people can't move to a farm" or "don't want to move to a farm," and so on. Remembering the articles I've read over the past few years about people who feed themselves from a 1/4 acre city lot, I wondered if I could find an article like that. So, I went to Google News -- and I found dozens of articles about such people -- all posted recently, as in the past few hours and days. I've been enjoying Barbara Kingsolver's new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle over the past couple weeks and feeling like I'm not so weird for wanting to grow my own food -- and thinking how cool it is that a best-selling author who could live anywhere and buy whatever food she wants has chosen to grow her own as much as possible. Now, I see that Barbara and I are not all that unusual!

Take for example, this family in Wroughton, England, who has their own vegetable garden, four chickens, and a duck to help feed their family fresh produce and eggs. Yes, ducks lay eggs, and yes, you can eat them. I am personally not fond of duck eggs because they have huge orange yolks, but my husband enjoys them.

And there is this family in Sydney, Australia, that has a very "green" house with solar panels, rainwater collection for drinking and washing, reclaimed wastewater, and chickens who lay the eggs for their family.

There is a couple that moved from Green Bay, Wisconsin, 12 years ago to a small farm where they now have multitudes of vegetable and flower gardens, an apple orchard, 40 chickens and a few other animals.

And all three of these stories have been published in the last 24 hours!

Another interesting pair of articles recently published started with Chicken Killing Day, an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about butchering chickens at a local sustainable farm that sells meats to local customers. In Readers aren't neutral about chicken killing, the newspaper printed readers' responses to the article, which included meat-eaters who were "disgusted, appalled, horrified" and so on that the newspaper had printed the article. Some were upset that the article was published in the food section. I have no problem with vegetarians who find the subject disturbing -- that's why they're vegetarians! I do have a problem with meat-eaters who are offended when someone mentions that they are eating a dead animal. What do they think they're eating? If they have a problem with eating a dead animal, then they should become a vegetarian. It's not that big a deal.

Our family became vegetarian in January 1989 after I read an article about factory farming. I couldn't live with the idea that my food choices were contributing to the suffering of an animal -- and I don't mean the killing. Killing a factory-farmed animal is just about the nicest thing that is ever done to them. It's their horrible life that's immoral. We did not move to the country with the intent to end 14 years of vegetarianism. But one day a hen was hit by a speeding 4-wheeler on the road in front of the house. It was not squashed, and after it had died in my arms, I said to my husband, "You know, this is perfectly good meat. It seems a shame to just bury her." We knew she'd lived a happy life up until that 4-wheeler came along, and she was healthy, so I pulled out one of my books that gave us instructions on how to butcher a chicken.

Then we realized that if we let the hens hatch their eggs, half of them will become roosters. We wound up with about 27 roosters and 40 hens, and since roosters only have one thing on their mind 24/7, and one rooster can "service" about 12-20 hens (according to my books), you can imagine that my poor hens were literally run ragged with less than a 2:1 hen-to-rooster ratio. Many of the hens no longer had feathers on their backs due to the constant mating. In addition to that, the roosters would frequently fight with each other.

We realized something had to be done, so we took all of the roosters except two, to the chicken processing plant in Arthur, and we came home with chicken in plastic packages, looking a lot like it did at the store -- except ours had longer legs and smaller breasts because they're all heritage breeds. There were also some dark pin feathers on our chicken because nature makes chickens in all different colors, not merely the white-feathered variety that is used in factory farming (which creates the nice pretty carcass in the store).

Today, I still don't eat commercially-raised meat. In fact, since I've been living out here, I have become even more adamant that factory farmed meat is unhealthy, inhumane, and unethical. When I receive chicken catalogs that offer to "protect" my investment by debeaking day-old chicks, I am reminded why I became a vegetarian 18 years ago.

So I have absolutely zero tolerance for meat eaters who don't want to know that they are eating dead animals. But I know that some people are content to go through life sleepwalking, and like most people who are in a deep sleep, they'll get really angry at anyone who tries to wake them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Three days ago, I was walking in an area that I thought was nothing more than overgrown weeds and bushes. In fact, we'd been dumping manure in that area for the past two years. Then something red caught my eye only a few feet from the ground -- then something black and shiny. I squealed, "Oh!" as I thought I had discovered wild raspberries. As I looked for the source of the berries though, I discovered they were growing on a rather short tree that had low-hanging branches. I called Mike over to take a look at my discovery. He quickly popped a berry into his mouth and said, "It's not sweet." That surprised me, so I plucked a berry off its branch and popped it into my mouth and quickly came to the conclusion that either he had a different definition of sweet or he had picked a bad berry. It was delicious -- and unlike anything I had ever tasted. After a bit of research, I learned that it was a mulberry tree. Mike was disappointed that the song about the mulberry bush had such a glaring error in it.

The tree sits in a trench that goes from the east pasture to the pond. We doubt that it's a natural trench. I suppose it could have been a creek at some point in the past, but it just starts in the middle of nothing, so I don't know where the water source would have come from. Anyway, we mowed around the tree so that we could easily get to it for picking, although there is this issue of the trench that is a foot or two deep, where we can't mow, and if we were to step down in there, we wouldn't be able to reach the branches, so that does make picking berries a bit of a challenge. Still, I was able to pick more than a cup of berries two days ago, and this morning there are lots more ripe ones!

Today we had mulberry muffins for breakfast. I used my chocolate chip muffin recipe and replaced the chocolate chips with mulberries. I also used all white sugar, rather than half brown sugar. It made a perfect breakfast muffin because it wasn't overly sweet. I always feel kind of guilty for eating chocolate chip muffins for breakfast because they taste more like a snack than a food that is meant to get you moving in the morning.

Gooseberries won't be ripe for another month, and then we'll be eating gooseberry muffins for breakfast. I love the idea of eating wild foods, because they are organic and free!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Geese take on the world!

Did anyone out there in the blogosphere know that geese love tree bark -- especially the tree bark of newly planted fruit trees? [cue primal scream] Yes, the geese are chewing the bark off the fruit trees we recently planted. The little stinkers also ripped up my watermelon seedings through the floating row covers that I put over them to protect them from the insects (which I thought would be their only predators). The only goose (female) of the five (yes, four are ganders) laid another seven eggs and is now setting again. I was happy about this a week ago, but now I am wondering why I want more geese!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Time to rant! I had a conversation with a neighbor last night who said that he noticed I finally got my sheep sheared. I said yes, and he said, "There's no money in that, is there?" I tried to say that there was, but then he started talking about how it was great back when they got paid $2.50 per POUND for wool, but then the bottom dropped out of the market, and you can't make any money on it now.

A couple weeks ago when I was at Garfield Farm, a woman was telling me that the 4-H kids in her county sell their wool to a co-op for 23 cents a POUND, and when she tried to tell the extension agent that she'd buy the kids' wool for more, the woman wanted to hear nothing about it.

Last year, I sold out of my Shetland roving at $1.50 per OUNCE, and it seems that the price has gone up since then, so I'll be selling it for $2 an OUNCE this year. When I attempted to tell my neighbor last night that once you process your wool into roving, you can get $32 a pound for it, he quickly said, "Well, that's a winner!" turned on his heel and left before I could say another word. He clearly thought I was crazy.

This morning, I was telling my husband at breakfast that our neighbor probably thought that my comment was about as crazy as saying that you could make $100 an hour working at Wal-Mart. I started thinking about it, and it's even crazier than that! Imagine that they are paying 23 cents an hour to work at McDonald's, and Wal-Mart is paying $23 an hour. Where would you work? I don't think it's a stretch to say that NO one would work at McDonald's for 23 cents and hour when they could 100X as much money working at Wal-Mart. But of course, I'm not crazy, because I do sell my wool for that much. I sold out of every last little fiber last year at $1.50 per ounce ($24 per pound)!

Today I posted a message on my sheep group about this, and several people said that they have had the same conversation plenty of times. Yes, I have to clean the wool and have it carded (or card it myself) to sell it at that price, but I look at the 20 fleeces in my living room right now and think: I could sell them at 23 cents a pound to some co-op and make a whopping $25 -- if they would be willing to buy colored wool! Or I could spend a few hours skirting them and a few more hours washing them. It will cost me $6 a pound to have the wool carded ($360 total for 20, 3# fleeces -- they weigh less after they're washed), and then I have to post it on my website, which costs $6 a month, and I can sell all of that wool for $2,000. Hmm ... is it worth the extra $1,615 to do that work and sell directly to the consumer? Which one would you choose?

We spent this morning preparing our fleeces to be washed.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Wisconsin goat show

We went to a goat show in Wisconsin today. We were hoping Carmen would win, because she already has two legs in AGS (a goat registry -- like AKC is a registry for dogs), so a third win would make her a master champion, and since she already has her advanced registry milk star, she would be an ARMCH. There are not a lot of ARMCHs in the goat world. Although she did win "best udder," she did not win grand champion. That honor went to Caboose, a goat owned by Margaret. Caboose now has two legs, so she also needs only one win to finish her permanent championship. This picture is of Carmen, because she was in the best mood for pictures. Caboose, however, was in the best mood for prancing around the ring looking like a champion!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New pigs

The girls and I went down to pick up four new piglets today -- two gilts (baby girls) and two boars (uncastrated males). They are currently in the back of the pick-up truck because Mike couldn't find his tin snips to finish their shelter while we were gone. He did finally find them and is now working on getting their shelter done.
This is one of the gilts. They are easy to tell apart because the girls have notched ears, while the boys ears are not cut. The farmer must have been thinking of keeping these girls for breeding because that's how they identify pigs. Rather than tattooing like we do with goats or using ear tags like we do with sheep, they notch their ears. The location of the notch tells you what litter they came from and which pig number they were. Anyway, you wouldn't waste your time notching ears unless you were planning to register the pigs. Since the boys don't have notched ears, it means that their destiny has always been pork.

Looks like they have some lice eggs around their necks. The farmer said he hadn't put any powder on them, which makes me think that he normally does that -- puts delousing powder on them. This is the fourth time we've bought pigs from him, and they've never had lice before. So, we need to figure out how to deal with this. I certainly don't want them to have lice because they're blood suckers, and the pigs won't gain weight well if they have any kind of parasites.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Goats, geese, and watermelon seedlings

We've been busy with a variety of things the past few days. Of course, I have to spend a certain amount of time with my goats every day. I absolutely adore my two la mancha babies. The la mancha breed is certainly a great illustration of the saying, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." I think they are the most beautiful goats in the world with the teeny-weeny ears, but some people think they are hideous. Go figure.

We finally got some much-needed rain. We had none for two and a half weeks, and we got about an inch, so we can go a few days without worrying about watering. On one of the wet days, we spent almost the whole day cleaning out the small barn. I am hoping to have it cleaned out by the end of June, so we can have our goat show in there.

Mike got the entire "regular" garden planted. That is the first time we have ever planted every square inch of the garden, so we're pretty proud. Katherine and I also transplanted some watermelons into one of the permaculture areas. We put floating row covers on them to protect them from bugs. The next day, Mike and I were coming home from town, and when we pulled into the driveway, we saw the geese pecking and ripping at the row covers! Who knew geese loved watermelon seedlings? I jumped out of the car and chased them away. They have acres and acres of grass -- even a few dozen daylilies -- so I don't think they need my watermelon seedlings!


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