Thursday, March 27, 2008


Four weeks ago, Addy, my standard poodle started favoring her right front leg. I mashed on all parts of it from top to bottom and couldn't figure out what was bothering her. As each day passed, she seemed to be bothered more. Finally, two weeks ago, I took her to the vet. She did two x-rays and said it was probably arthritis and gave us some pain pills. It didn't look like the pain pills were doing any good. She continued walking on three legs. But the pain pills ran out a few days ago. I came home on Tuesday, and the girls told me that Addy has been crying and whining all day. Obviously the pain pills had been masking the worsening of her condition. I called the vet, and they said to bring her in. Maybe she had lyme disease.

Yesterday, we took her to the vet, and the lyme disease test was negative. They did two more x-rays and still couldn't tell us what was wrong. But Addy now had a fever of 104.8, which is several degrees high for a dog. The vet gave her a shot for pain and fever, and referred us to another vet with more experience in orthopedic problems. Today we took her to that vet, and after three more x-rays, he told us she has cancer in her shoulder.

He told us the first step would be to completely amputate her leg. That would get rid of the pain immediately, but in 2/3 of cases of bone cancer, it has already spread to other parts of the body by the time it is diagnosed, so she might only have a few months left. In cases where they also do chemo, it usually adds about a year to the dog's life. I've known people in chemo, and I can't imagine putting a dog through that. Add a year to her life when a part of it would put her in more agony? That doesn't make sense. But what do I do?

For now, she is taking two different types of pain pills. She is not eating, and she only walks to the water bowl for water and outside to potty three times a day. Otherwise, she is laying down. I remember one day when I was a reporter, I shadowed a doctor who had a patient with bladder cancer. She wasn't eating, her weight was down to 85 pounds, and all she kept saying was, "I want to die. Just let me die. It's too painful." Her husband and her son kept telling her that she didn't mean it, and she simply said the same thing again and again. When they insisted that she didn't mean it and begged her to tell them what she wanted, she said, "I want to be cremated." I look at Addy, and I remember that woman lying in bed, begging the doctor and her family to let her die so the pain would go away. If Addy could talk, I wonder what she would say to me.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Healthy and sustainable

This morning as I was sitting in physical therapy, I found myself counting the days until I am done with grad school. I've recently decided that I should never have a 9 to 5 job at a desk. My body just can't handle it. I need to be outside, lifting water buckets, shoveling the muck, and walking across my pastures. It's not work -- it's a necessary part of life. When I lived in the burbs, I thought about how ridiculous it was that I would drive to the Y to spend half an hour biking to nowhere and lifting weights that were never moved anywhere.

Since I've been in grad school, my daughters have taken up the slack at the farm. They've been doing a lot of my physical work outside. That was a mistake. A few years ago, I remember telling my husband that even if I could afford to hire someone to take care of the animals, I wouldn't do it. Now I realize I shouldn't do it. I've been in physical therapy for two months now, trying to strengthen the back and shoulder muscles that have grown weak from spending too much time at a computer.

Although I know our lifestyle is more sustainable for the planet, and it keeps us healthier because of the good nutrition, I have recently come to realize that this lifestyle keeps us physically healthier and stronger. I don't want to grow old and weak like those people I see in the gym at the hospital, recovering from the heart attacks that nearly killed them. It's no secret that people need to be active to stay healthy as they age, but 30 minutes at the gym a couple times a week is a joke.

When I told the physical therapist that I've started working more on the farm, he got pretty excited and repeatedly reassured me that I was doing a good thing. After my initial evaluation, he told me that if I don't strengthen my back muscles, I'm going to wind up in the same shape again and again. I imagine he sees a lot of repeat customers. He's probably more optimistic about my future knowing that I'll be getting some real exercise after my physical therapy ends.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Moving day for piglets

The weather is climbing well above freezing each day, so I decided yesterday that it was time to move the piglets outdoors. They are also eating a bit less frequently, so Katherine will only have to go out there about every three to four hours now. They were initially eating every hour or two the first week.

We put them in a 10X10 stall in the barn, and they seem to be having the time of their lives. They were running around like crazy yesterday when we first moved them. There is plenty of straw in there, so they can root and burrow themselves into it when they want. This morning Katherine found them buried in the straw under the heat lamp. Only their little butts were sticking out of the straw. Of course, they immediately popped up when they heard her open the stall door.

As for names, a friend had emailed me Pink Chop for the girl. Since we were already calling the boy Pork Chop, that sounded cute. We're calling them Pinkie and Porky for short. Last Sunday, Katherine took them to Sunday school with her. She's an assistant teacher for the early elementary kids, and she usually takes some type of animal with her every Sunday. The parents say that their kids are in more of a rush to leave for church than ever before, so no one is complaining, but I thought she was really pushing it by taking pigs. They were a huge hit though, and everyone wants her to bring them again sometime.

Monday, March 10, 2008

New chicks

The phone rang shortly after 7 a.m. this morning. It was the post office with news that our baby chicks had arrived from the hatchery. So, I jumped out of bed, pulled on my clothes, and went to pick up the chicks. I was very disappointed that more than half of the 25 did not survive their trip from Iowa, so the hatchery will be sending us more next week.

These are rose-combed brown leghorns, a rare variety of leghorn. The commercial egg-laying chicken in the United States was developed from the white leghorn. Since we have a freezer full of chicken, we only ordered pullets, which will grow up to be hens. Leghorns would not make very good meat birds anyway, because they tend to be small.

Leghorns lay white eggs. I continue to be amazed at how many people think that a chicken's feather color determines the egg color. It is sad to see that misinformation perpetuated on the Internet, but what's really amazing is when someone will argue with me about it. There was once a woman in my driveway insisting that white chickens lay white eggs. I told her that all of my chickens lay brown eggs, even the white ones, because the breed determines the color of eggs. She continued to insist that only brown chickens lay brown eggs. I rephrased my thoughts and said that I had never found a white egg in my chicken house, even though I have white chickens -- and I pointed to the white chickens in my yard. She told me that they said on the news that white chickens lay white eggs. I don't know if she ever believed that my chickens only laid brown eggs, but this will be fun, because now I will have some white egg layers -- my new brown leghorns!

After six years of having chickens, I suddenly got this brilliant idea. We are not terribly experienced at determining which chickens are still laying and which ones are not, so I decided that if I got white-egg-laying chickens, I would know how well my older chickens are laying. Next winter, once another egg season is done, the older layers will become stew hens and we will only over-winter the leghorns. Then next year, I'll order more brown egg layers, and I'll know how my leghorns are laying next summer, because their eggs will be a different color than the new ones. "People" say that chickens are good layers for about two years, so the plan is to butcher the oldest ones after two years. If I keep the leghorns for a third laying year, I might get either blue-egg-laying chickens or a white egg layer (like a Hamburg) that lays medium-sized eggs, so that I will still be able to tell them apart and know how well the leghorns are laying.

Commercially they push the hens so hard, they do not last more than a year. And I know some homesteaders who also use artificial lighting to push the egg production year round. So, I am wondering if my chickens might be good layers for a third year, since they live in a pretty stress-free environment. Even though I don't like the idea of buying new pullets every year (it's not very sustainable), I am interested in learning more about which breeds do well in our climate. Also, buying only one breed of chicken each year will make it easier to know the age of every hen. I have lots of questions and am certainly excited about my new hens and everything I'll be learning in the next two or three years.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Kidding season

We just welcomed our fifth set of kids tonight. I was putting the finishing touches on a potato au gratin before putting it into the oven when I heard Katherine screaming over the baby monitor. I couldn't understand much beyond, "Oh, my God!" Since I had just checked on Lizzie 45 minutes earlier and knew her tail ligaments were gone, I knew the screaming could only mean one thing, so I ran towards the coat closet and yelled to Jonathan to finish the potatoes and get them in the oven for me. As I pulled on my boots, I explained what "finish" meant.

When I ran into the barn I heard Katherine continuing to utter lots of exclamations, including, "He's huge!" I saw a little red buck dripping wet on the straw next to Lizzie who was doing her best to get him cleaned up as Katherine helped with a towel. I knelt next to her, and in less than two minutes, there were more hooves presenting. The kid almost flew out, and as I was drying it, Katherine asked if it was a boy or a girl, and as I glanced at Lizzie, I said, "I don't know. Don't have time. Here!" I practically tossed the kid at her as I grabbed a dry towel to catch the third kid that was almost flying out into the world. Final count was two bucks and one doe. The second and third kids were white. The little girl is quite the screamer. Lizzie Borden's kids are supposed to be named after early-20th-century outlaws, so I'm thinking Ma Barker and her boys. The little doe certainly has the spunk to be named after someone that tough.

On Wednesday, Odette had buck-doe twins, both tan, and I don't think that I mentioned that Shirley kidded 10 days ago on February 27. She had triplets, but one of the does was stillborn. Her kids are pictured above. The little buck is white and has blue eyes and is the most dairy buck kid I've ever seen. I'm thinking that I'd like to keep him, since his mother earned her milk star on her first freshening -- and he is gorgeous.

Next Wednesday, March 12, we have two does due to kid, then we should be done for the month of March. Caboose and Beauty are both due, but Beauty has almost no udder, so I am wondering if we are not somehow mistaken on her due date. She is clearly pregnant, but the lack of an udder has me wondering what's up -- is the date wrong, or is her production not going to increase much from her first freshening? The latter would certainly be a huge disappointment.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Piglet problems

I don't think we'll be raising pigs. This is the second time I've said that in the past few months. First I said it because we had some naughty pigs that kept getting out of their pen and rooting up our yard. When the snow melts now, and we have warm days, our yard is horribly muddy because they rooted up the grass. So, those boys went to the processor a couple months earlier than planned because we just got tired of chasing them back to their pasture.

Then we realized that one of the gilts was pregnant, so I thought that we might wind up raising pigs after all. She farrowed two days ago, and it was a rather traumatic day for all involved. Jonathan came running into the house in the morning yelling, "We have piglets!" I had to leave for work, but Katherine ran out there right away. The rest of my day was spent fielding phone calls from home as the story unfolded. First I learned that only four piglets were still alive from the eight that had been born. Two had clearly been squashed, and one was clearly an unhealthy runt. The last of the four dead ones met a mysterious death.

A couple hours later, Katherine went out to check on them, and another one was dead. He had been squashed also. She phoned, begging me to say that it was okay to bring the rest into the house and raise them. "They'll all be dead by evening chores if we leave them out there!" I couldn't disagree.

About 15 minutes later, my phone rings again. Katherine is crying so hard, I can hardly understand her, but the word "cannibalism" stands out. I finally discern that when Katherine went back to take away the three remaining live piglets, the mama pig had begun eating the dead one. When they took it away, the mama grabbed one of the live piglets and began chomping. We now have two piglets living in our basement.

Like most baby animals around here, they spent their first night in Katherine's bed; however, she said they are much more challenging than baby goats. They must be fed every hour or two, and that first night, the girl piglet wanted to eat every half hour, and she'd start biting when she got hungry, so Katherine was awakened more than once by a piglet nibbling on her -- and they have needle-like teeth. Last night, Katherine slept on the futon in the basement with them in a box next to her. It was less painful for her that way.

I agree that if we had left them out there, they would have been dead fairly soon. Both have scratch marks, bite marks, and bruises on their bodies, but they seem to be healthy. While I hope the piggies live, I am not happy about bottle-feeding a couple of animals that will eventually become dinner. Katherine insists on naming them. I've suggested that she name the boy Pork Chop, although I haven't come up with a suitable name for the girl. Any suggestions?


Related Posts with Thumbnails