Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Biscuits for breakfast

But I don't have time to make biscuits for breakfast!

In my tiny little unscientific poll, the majority of people said they had 5 to 15 minutes to devote to making breakfast. And yes, you can make biscuits in less than 15 minutes. When I first started making biscuits it took me just a smidge under 15 minutes. Now that I do it a couple times a week, I can do it in less than 10 minutes, which is less time than it takes to preheat the oven.

First, here are the directions for those of you who have 10-15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the following ingredients in a bowl and mix with a spoon:

2 cups unbleached flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt

Then, using a pastry blender, cut into the flour mixture --

1/2 stick of butter (yes, that's 1/4 cup or 4 T.)

For the uninitiated, a pastry blender is this little doohicky. It's used to "cut" solid fats into flour.

If you want to cut calories, you can use only two tablespoons of butter, but a half stick gives the biscuits a nicer texture.

Once the flour and butter look like crumbles, add --

3/4 cup buttermilk

If the mixture gets too challenging to mix with a spoon, stick your hands in there and start mixing. Once the dough has formed a ball, I like to flatten it, fold it in half, then flatten it, fold it in half, etc., about eight or ten times. This is what creates "flaky" biscuits with layers. If the dough is sticky, sprinkle a little flour on it. Then flatten the dough on your baking stone or cookie sheet and cut into shapes. If you have a biscuit cutter, you can use that, but I prefer just cutting them with a knife.

Stick in the oven for 15-20 minutes. I usually turn off my oven at 15 minutes and let them sit in there for another five minutes, saving a little propane.

Now for those of you who only have five or ten minutes in the morning -- Mix up the flour, baking soda, and salt, and cut-in the butter the night before. Stick it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, pull out the bowl, add the buttermilk, and you're ready to pop them into the oven in less than five minutes.


Do I really have to use buttermilk?
No, but it tastes better if you do.

Can I use whole wheat flour, rye flour, corn flour, etc?
Yes, you can substitute equal amounts of other types of flour. I'd suggest using at least one cup of unbleached flour, unless you are already accustomed to eating whole grain flours.

What if I don't have a pastry blender?
I've heard that you can use two knives (one in each hand) and just keep slicing through the mix until it looks crumbly, but I've never tried it. Even though I do have a pastry blender, I slice up my butter when I put it into the flour mix, so that there is less cutting to do with the pastry blender.

Another option is to use 1/4 cup of vegetable oil instead of butter. I used to do this all the time, and if I'm out of butter, I still do it. It doesn't taste as good, but it works.

How often do you really have biscuits for breakfast?
About two or three times a week.

Doesn't it get boring?
No, biscuits are quite versatile. You can slap a little jam on them, make gravy for them, or make little sausage burgers with them. You can also make garlic-cheddar biscuits by sprinkling garlic powder in the mix and adding 3/4 cup of shredded cheddar cheese to the dry mix before adding the buttermilk.

Gravy? Did you say gravy? Do you have a gravy recipe?
Sure! In a skillet over medium heat, whisk together 2 T. fat (butter, bacon drippings, vegetable oil, whatever) and 2 T. flour. When it starts to bubble, add 2 cups milk and continue stirring until it bubbles and thickens, which takes less than five minutes. If you like thicker gravy, add less milk.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Food, food everywhere -- but what's fit to eat?

There have been two really disgusting developments in the world of big business foods. First, the FDA, in all its wisdom, has decided that it is acceptable to irradiate our lettuce and spinach, etc., to save us from the nasty bugs that can wind up on raw vegetables from improper handling. Currently, the law says that irradiated food has to be labeled, but since there are so many of us wacky, paranoid consumers out there who don't want things like irradiated food, they are talking about changing the law so that irradiated food won't be labeled. So, in the land of the free, we won't be free to choose natural food, because we won't know which lettuce is natural and which has been zapped.

And if this follows the path of the milk industry, it won't be long until natural spinach is a thing of the past. Zapping will be required for all produce, and the only way to get natural produce will be to grow you own. It's ironic that I've been planning a blog on raw milk. I was going to say that any raw food can make you sick if handled improperly, but most of us eat raw food on a daily basis, like lettuce. No one is going to suggest that you cook lettuce to make it safer to eat. Well, maybe not cook it, but now some companies are going to start irradiating it.

I know it sounds crazy to say that someday non-irradiated produce will be illegal, but raw milk is illegal in many states today. Both situations are the same -- proper handling procedures make raw milk safe to drink, just as proper handling procedures make raw spinach safe to eat. Rather than admitting that the human factor makes food unsafe, the FDA says raw food is unsafe. Since it's tough to control millions of minimum-wage workers who handle produce and milk cows, it's easier to pasteurize milk and irradiate produce.

The second disgusting development is a result of the skyrocketing corn prices. I've blogged about it before. Those corn prices are affecting all of us. Fewer farmers are planting other crops, such as hay, since the corn is more profitable. And the lower supply of hay means the price is going up -- simple economics, right? Well, what do you think the beef ranchers are going to do when their #1 feed ingredient doubles in price? If you're not sitting down, please have a seat. I feel like Dave Barry here as I say, I am not making this up. If it didn't come from the Wall Street Journal, I'd say this is really too ludicrous to be true.

Where do they get such ideas? Can you just picture Billy Bob and Rufus down at the local bar after a hard day working in the feedlot ... Billy Bob is complaining about the high corn prices, and as he takes a swig from his longneck, Rufus starts to complain about his kids getting overweight.

"But what do you expect? You know, they got them vending machines all over the schools, selling kids candy and potato chips. Sometimes that's all they have for lunch! But what can you do? You give 'em lunch money, and you figure they'll buy a cafeteria lunch, but then they go eatin' all them potato chips and M&Ms!"

And then Billy Bob gets an idea -- a terribly brilliant idea! He thinks aloud, "How do you suppose the cost of potato chips and candy stack up against the price of corn?"

"Well," Rufus says, "buying bags of candy and potato chips would be mighty expensive, but maybe we could talk to the folks who makes that stuff and see if they got something, you know, some kind of by-products that they could sell us cheap. It sure ought to fatten up the cattle."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Old-fashioned and awesome

A few months ago, we realized that hay prices were getting out of hand. A bale of hay cost $2 six years ago. Last year, I paid $3.50 a bale. Today, you're lucky to find one for $5. I've heard of people paying $9 a bale in a town less than three hours southeast of us. Although we have a two-acre hayfield, it hasn't been producing well since the drought three years ago. We know we need about 100 bales of grass and 100 bales of alfalfa to make it through the winter.

I've been telling Mike he should get a scythe, and he finally bought one in June. Now, we both wish he would have had one for the past six years. He uses it daily. About half of our 32 acres is across a creek, so it is not accessible to modern hay equipment. We have lots of pasture that could support all of our animals if only we could get them to the forage (more fences) or bring the forage to them, which is where the scythe comes in handy.

In our pre-scythe days, we would use two to four flakes of hay at night when we brought the milk goats into the barn. Now Mike heads out with his scythe and cuts down weeds and grass. We stuff the hayfeeders overly full of all this great stuff. The goats love it, and they drink a lot less water than they do when they're eating hay, which is dry. We weigh our milk daily, and production has not gone down as a result of the new feeding regimen.

He's tried haying, but not with much luck, since we bought the scythe too late to make great hay this year. We do have four or five large bundles of dried grass, but the goats don't like it. I'm thinking they'll like it better in the middle of January. Next year, we'll be out there haying in May and June when the grass is at its most nutritious.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Let's talk food

Since some readers have requested recipes, and since some people think they can't possibly eat like my family, I've decided to start blogging about exactly how you can start eating healthier. To get started, I've created a poll to find out how much time you can devote to making breakfast. "I don't have time!" is the most common reason people give me for not eating at home more often, so I want to know exactly what that means.

Since it is almost a cliche that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day," I thought that would be a perfect place to start! You can look for my first breakfast post on Tuesday. I hope to get back on here tomorrow and finally tell you about Mike's scythe and how much we wish we'd have bought it six years ago!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Time to move on

I'm not normally up at 5 a.m., but this morning I've been awake since 2:50. I was awakened by a bad dream -- I was in labor at my current age, and my teenagers were there. Like most bad dreams, it seemed real. As I tried to convince myself that it was just a dream, I heard Sovalye barking in response to the coyote's yapping, and I started thinking about all the events of the past two and a half weeks.

It scares me when I think of how close we came to putting him down for doing something that was not his fault. I feel guilty when I think of how we tried to push him to work when he was still sick. And it makes me mad when I think of how the vet let us down in so many ways. She said to euthanize him the moment she heard he'd bitten. She said to keep him quiet for a month after the heartworm treatment; she never said it might take him three months to recover. In fact, her parting words to me the day of the diagnosis were that most people find their dog has a lot more energy after treatment.

I am seeing that energy now -- at nearly four months after treatment. Last night at chore time, we started breeding goats. Sovalye was bouncing across the pasture like Tigger. I think he misinterpreted the buck's mating noises as, "Let's play!" We had incorrectly thought one doe was in heat, but we were obviously wrong. As the buck chased her around the pasture, Sovalye bounced after him like a puppy.

For the past few mornings and nights, Sovalye has been really excited when the goats are let out into the pasture in the morning and back into the barn at night. Most of the time, he runs ahead of them like a greyhound leading the pack. Sometimes, he stands at attention like a general watching his troops pass in review, never taking his eyes off of them.

To help him in his recovery, we've been giving him raw goat milk twice a day at milking time. Many people swear by its healing powers for sick people and animals. And recently, I've been thinking that he has grown to expect it, as he meets us at the door of the milking parlor twice a day. He is a very polite dog when it comes to food. He never takes food from your hand, and when we give him his milk, we have to step away before he'll drink it. Margaret wondered aloud two nights ago how he was going to feel when we started to run short on milk in the winter.

Then last night, we came out of the milking parlor, and he wasn't there. I poured some milk into the bowl for Sneakers the barn cat, and I walked to the back door. I looked out into the pasture, and then I saw Sovalye. He was laying down with his back to the barn and his head held high, looking out across the sheep pasture and the buck pens. As dusk turned to darkness across the pasture, he looked over his shoulder at me and wagged his tail. I walked back into the barn and poured the rest of the milk in the cat's bowl.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Food safety

Most people think the food supply in the U.S. is completely safe. We have certifications, licenses, inspectors, and lots of laws -- and if something goes wrong, and you get sick, you can always sue the manufacturer, the restaurant, or somebody. A few weeks ago, a friend forwarded a food recall notice to me, and I discovered that anyone can subscribe to the US Food and Drug Administration's email alerts for food recalls and whatever else the agency is doing that you want to know about. I had no idea what I was about to learn.

My mailbox started filling up daily with food recalls, changes in drug warnings, and information about drugs being put back on the market after being pulled for adverse reactions. Today, Publix supermarkets are recalling vanilla wafers for undeclared soy ingredients. It's only 10:30 a.m. though, so there will probably be more before the FDA offices close for today. Friday was quite the day for recalls:
How many of these recalls did you know about before you read about it just now? I suppose Publix and Whole Foods might put notices on their store shelves about the allergens in their products, but many of these recalls are meaningless, since most customers never know about them. And if you have someone at home who is allergic to soy, odds are good that they'd eat those vanilla wafers before you head back to Publix and see the notice on the shelf. I now realize how naive I was to assume that every recall was announced on the radio or through other media outlets.

In a former life, I was a lactation consultant, and I remember a colleague telling me that a man once told her that he wanted his wife to bottlefeed, "because you don't know what's in breast milk. You know what's in formula because it's all right there on the label." I think most people realize how naive that comment is, but I would also say that most people trust the food system in this country to give us exactly what the label says with no added allergens, fungus, bacteria, or salmonella. I wish we could trust the food system that much. It would be great if labels were 100% accurate and complete. But in their quest for 100% food safety, legislators and regulators go a little over the top.

A few years ago in Illinois, they tried to outlaw potluck dinners. No, I am not making this up. Although that piece of legislation failed, when our church bought a new building, it had to have a licensed commercial kitchen, which included five sinks: one for hand washing, one for a mop, one for washing dishes, one for rinsing, and I don't even remember what the other one was for. They all had to be stainless steel, of course. When we lived in Hawaii 15 years ago, we couldn't have bake sales unless everything was prepared in a certified, licensed kitchen.

I'm not saying that there should be no regulations. I would just like to see regulations that make sense. It's obvious that most regulations favor big business. If I wanted to sell my goat cheese, I'd have to buy a $15,000 pasteurizer as part of the certified dairy and certified kitchen that I'd have to build -- total budget could easily hit the $100,000 mark. It doesn't matter that my family and friends have been eating our cheese for six years without a single illness. It doesn't matter that I make it in one-gallon batches, because we're hand-milking 8 to 10 Nigerian dwarf does that only average about a quart a day. Nor does it matter that I'd only sell directly to the consumer, so if one of us ever did get sick, I could call up Jane Doe and say, "Hey, bring back that cheese. It made me sick."

But my musings on this subject are elementary compared to David Gumpert, a journalist and author who writes a lot about health care issues. My husband reads Gumpert's blog religiously, and as of late, most of his posts have to do with raw milk or small farm dairy issues. There are several cases of state regulators going after small farmers who sell directly to the consumer -- and not because anyone ever became ill from their milk. I can never figure out exactly why state regulators go after independent farmers, except for the oh-so-obvious bottom line. Giant corporations donate big bucks to politicians; small farmers don't. Giant corporations can hire lobbyists and scientists to make their opinions sound credible; small farmers can't.

Of course, reading about all these food recalls just makes me happy that we grow so much of our own food. With the tomato plants producing by the bushel, it's time to make more salsa. We finished the latch batch in about two days. My recipe varies, depending upon exactly what I get from the garden, but as requested by a couple readers, I'll post a recipe and pictures tomorrow.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Trust and control (and dog psychology)

I've been thinking a lot about trust the past couple weeks. The most obvious question is, how can you trust a dog that's bitten someone? In the first few days after the bite, that question was foremost in my mind. As the days passed, and as I watched Sovalye more, I realized that trust is something that goes both ways. He had lost trust in us also.

When I first opened the back door of the barn, he would only walk outside several steps behind me, and he wouldn't get close to me. When I headed back into the barn though, he was always ahead of me or right next to me. I think he was afraid I was going to make him stay outside. As the days passed, he was venturing out more and staying longer. He would even run to the end of the barn pasture. After telling the bite story to animal control and the new vet and having both of them say it sounded like a fear bite -- without my saying that he was scared to go into the pasture -- I started to realize that Sovalye didn't trust us to keep him safe. In spite of his massive 115-pound structure, he usually acts submissive towards us, and I've also noticed this more as each day has passed. When I go into the barn, he rolls over on his back and shows me his belly. Without regurgitating everything I've read over the years about alpha dogs and submissive dogs, I'd say the trust between us and Sovalye is even stronger than it is between us and Porter, our English shepherd.

For almost five years, we've taken dozens of complete strangers into the pasture, and Sovalye has never barked at a single one. If someone stops their car along the road though, he barks non-stop until we come outside. He trusts our judgment and trusts us to take care of things. On the other hand, when a stranger comes to our house, Porter barks and sometimes growls incessantly. We've had to lock him up sometimes because he refuses to stop barking or growling. It's as if he's saying, "You don't understand! They're dangerous! Let me chase them away!" He doesn't trust our judgment.

As far as knowing that a dog "will bite" -- I came to the conclusion last year that one should never assume that any dog will not bite. In other words, every dog has the potential to bite. When my dear standard poodle Addy was 9 years old, the FedEx man was delivering a package, and she was barking at him non-stop. I said the dumbest words ever uttered: "Don't worry. She doesn't bite." He believed me and started walking towards the house. Addy lunged and snarled with teeth bared. He jumped back. I grabbed Addy and apologized profusely. I felt light-headed and stupid, but I'm sure the delivery man felt even worse. I hope he learned the same lesson I did that day -- never assume a dog won't bite.

In 2002, I interviewed the Monks of New Skete when they revised their classic, "How to be Your Dog's Best Friend." I've been thinking about them a lot lately, and the other day, I looked up the article I wrote. Brother Christopher, one of the monks, said he thought their book, originally published in 1978, became so popular because it was the first dog training book to look deeper into a person's relationship with his or her dog. It didn't just talk about training techniques. Although we all expect our dogs to listen to us, do we listen to our dogs? They are trying to communicate, but they can't speak English any better than we can speak dog.

A couple days before Margaret got in a fight with Sovalye, she had just read a book on dog training. Although it was one of the more intuitive books out there, she still came away with ideas about controlling him, asserting her dominance over him, and making him do what she wanted him to do. It's kind of ironic that 20 years ago, she taught me that control is an illusion. Anyone who thought a parent could control a baby never had a high-need baby. It's a lesson I never forgot. Living out here, I've often said, "Control is an illusion!" in response to many things -- the coyotes, a 500-pound heifer, a 300-pound pig, and even a goat in labor. We humans think we have to be in control all the time. A lot of authors make millions telling people how to control every aspect of their lives.

But, just as I learned to listen to and trust Margaret when she was a baby, we should have listened to and trusted Sovalye. Dogs don't lie. If they're trying to tell us something, we should try to understand. Sovalye was trying to tell us that he couldn't work. After being bitten, Margaret started researching heartworm treatment and learned that it often takes three months to recover competely. And they weren't talking about dogs that had a job fighting off coyotes!

There is another book that I keep remembering -- Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. The subtitle was something about how to train everything and everyone from your dog to your kids to your husband to your own tennis swing. I re-read that book a lot 15-20 years ago, and I wish I could find it now. It's all about eliciting cooperation, rather than asserting control. A good chunk of that book talked about understanding motivation. When we were moving pigs through the pasture a couple months ago to load them into a trailer, I said to everyone, "We're not going to get 300-pound pigs to do anything they don't want to do." What motivates pigs? Food! But you also have to understand that they are scared of new places, which brings me to my final gem of wisdom for this morning:
Seek first to understand.
If we could always remember Stephen Covey's advice, it would save us a lot of headaches and heartaches.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vet check

I took Sovalye to the vet this afternoon. It was completely uneventful. The vet was initially a little nervous about dealing with him, but I told her that he has always ignored whatever was done to him at the vet office. He doesn't even seem to notice when they draw blood, so taking his temperature should be simple enough. It was. In the end, she was petting him and telling him what a good boy he was, and she signed the form declaring him free of rabies. We talked more about what led to Margaret being bit, and she said it sounded like something had "scared the life out of him."

We've been leaving the back door of the barn open, so that he can go into the pasture if he wants, but there is no pressure for him to go or to stay longer than he feels safe. I've noticed that he has been going out more each day and staying a little longer. Initially, he would only follow us out and then follow us back into the barn. Yesterday he even ran into the pasture with the goats -- he's refused to go into that pasture for about six weeks -- and he treed a small varmint. It was gray and had the front teeth of a beaver, but it had inch-long claws that wrapped around the branch it was hanging onto, so I can't figure out what it was. I've googled pictures of beavers and badgers, and it doesn't fit either one completely. If Katherine were home, I'm sure she would have figured it out for me.

We really can't justify putting him down. After responding to questions about her face a couple times, Margaret's answer was, "I got in a fight with a dog." She knows that he would not have bitten her if she'd paid attention when he put on the brakes and then when he growled the first time. This has been an amazing learning experience for all of us, and it's taught us a lot about trust -- which goes both ways -- but I have another appointment today, so I'll have to write about that tomorrow.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sunday dinner

I love August. It's the month when the vast majority of our food comes from our farm. Last night for dinner, we had roast turkey with goat milk gravy, corn on the cob, wax beans, carrots, fried okra, and -- from the store -- wild rice. Tonight's dinner was pork chops and green beans, both homegrown. Today I made salsa with homegrown orange tomatoes, banana peppers, cayenne, purple onions, and garlic. Only the salt and vinegar were store bought.

Tomorrow is Sovalye's vet appointment at 1:30. Yes, I have an appointment with a new vet. She asked why he bit Margaret, which is a lot better than the other vet, who recommended he be put down without even talking to me about what happened. After I told her about the situation, she said it sounded like a case of fear biting. After his appointment tomorrow, I'll be posting an update.

Friday, August 8, 2008


My husband suggested with a smile that this post be titled, "Summer of Woe Continues," but I don't really think that is appropriate since today's disaster was my fault. I made a mistake, possibly even a couple of mistakes. I'm not even sure exactly what the mistakes were, but I'll eventually figure it out. The result of the mistake(s) is that the bottoms blew off a jar of hot peppers and a jar of dilly beans in the canner. Yes, one jar is upside down, and I have no idea how that happened!

I wasn't joking a couple days ago when I wrote that my husband learned to make jam, and I discovered that I'd been doing it wrong for six years. I should ask him to make dilly beans and hot peppers, and I'll probably figure out what I did wrong today. Most people are terrified of making mistakes. I think that's why I'm here living my dream and they're still in suburbia saying, "I wish ..." So many people say they could never do ___ because they don't know how, and they stop right there. They're surprised when I tell them that I did not grow up on a farm. I was a suburban newspaper reporter and mom with a dog, two cats, and an aquarium. That did not qualify me to start milking goats, making soap, and spinning wool.

When I say, "If I can do it, anyone can," I'm not being modest. Sure, I've read a lot of books, and I have to give credit to all the wonderful mentors I've found over the Internet, but a lot of what I've learned out here has been through the mistakes I've made. Whenever someone buys a goat from me, I always tell them to feel free to call with any questions. "I may not know the right answer, but I'm sure I can tell you what doesn't work!" Mistakes are the most under-rated learning tool in the universe. And many times when you read or hear conflicting information, the only thing you can do is jump right in and find out for yourself what's right.

We made a mistake the first time we built a chicken tractor, a movable pen. We wanted it to be light enough to easily move, so we made it out of PVC pipe, chicken wire, and a tarp. We were quite proud of ourselves with the finished product and put the baby chicks out there. A couple hours later, a storm blew in, and the chicken tractor blew off. All five of us were out there in the pouring rain gathering up soaking chicks. The storm had also knocked out the electricity, so we couldn't take them into the barn and put them under a heat lamp. Young chicks have to stay warm, so we brought them into the house and put them in front of our fireplace, where we started a fire.

My husband made the next chicken tractor with lots of wood so it wouldn't fly anywhere! Problem with that model is that it is so heavy, it's nearly impossible to move. Then he added removable wheels that lift up the pen for rolling across the grass. He made three pens like that, but I still don't like them, because they have to be moved every day, and they are still too heavy for me to move by myself. I didn't mind them so much for the mama turkey and her babies because they didn't make much of a mess, so they only had to be moved every three or four days. Now, however, with the mama hen and her chicks, it does need to be moved every day or two.

The mistake that wasn't ... Last winter, my daughters dumped pure rabbit manure on this flower bed. I thought for sure the daylilies would be dead. Lots of people say that rabbit manure is too "hot" to be used directly in the garden, but obviously, these flowers love it!

Making mistakes is not the cheapest way to learn. My gardening skills are terrible, although I don't think I'll ever give up. Bottom line is this -- how badly do you want something? I want my own fresh organic food, and I want my own beautiful flowers. The vegetable garden gets bigger and more successful each year, but we have our failures each year. I still struggle with the flowers, but I can grow gladiolas and daylilies. I've managed to kill lavender at least a couple times, and I've lost count of the number of rose bushes that have died under my care. But I'll keep trying, because I love lavender and roses.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Just like riding a bicycle?

Milking goats is just like riding a bicycle, right? Once you learn, you never forget. You might get rusty, and your muscles might get weak after a long break, but once you start doing it again, you'll be just as good as you were before you stopped! Maybe.

I milked the goats for the first two years after we moved out here. The first year, I had two milk goats, and when one proved to be completely intolerable within the first week --she laid down on the bucket -- I dried her up and proceeded to milk only one goat for the duration of 2002. The next year, I bought another goat in milk and freshened the three does I had purchased, two of which proved to be impossible to milk -- one because of personality and one because of tiny teats. The third year, my youngest daughter helped with a lot of the milking, and we had several goats by then, but I don't think we ever milked more than about three at any time. That year both my daughters got interested in goats, and by the end of that year, they had completely taken over milking duties.

With Katherine gone to camp and Margaret's arms and hand being injured, I have become the only milker again. Although she had been milking nine goats, I knew that it would be impossible for me to milk that many since I was accustomed to milking none. Since six of the goats had a single kid left, I put the kids with them to keep up the milk supply, although they probably won't keep the production up where it had been when those goats were being milked once a day. That left me with three that had to be milked twice a day. I think my hands have finally managed to get strong enough that I can milk the three of them without too much pain and moaning. But ...

My aim is not what it used to be. I fail to understand why it is so hard to squirt the milk into the bucket. By the end of milking each morning and evening, I generally have milk squirts on my pants, my shirt, the wall, the milking stand, the floor, and even on the goat's hooves. My hands are soaked with milk. I am amazed that the bucket has only been kicked over once, and that's because Mike said something and distracted me just as the goat decided to move her foot forward. There have been a couple of times when the goat picked up her rear leg and started to kick, but I moved the bucket or grabbed the leg just in time.

I'm slow. The goats are probably going to get fat unless I can milk faster. They won't stand still unless they have grain, and it takes me "four cups of grain" to milk each one. That's way more than they need for the milk they are producing. I think the general guideline is one pound of grain for every three pounds of milk. I'm only getting two pounds a day from each one, so if you do the math, you can see they're eating about four times as much grain as they need. At least that's what the bag of goat chow says.

But I'm having fun, and that's the most important part. I had forgotten how much fun it is to milk goats. Of course, it's always fun to spend time with goats. A couple days ago, we got the bright idea to let out the does with kids in the morning, so only the three who needed to be milked would be in the barn. Brilliant idea, but we underestimated how badly the goats would want to follow their herdmates. Mike opened the barn door as I held onto the collars of two goats. Everyone started to run, including the two I was holding. I went splat, face first, into the straw! I was screaming, "Close the door" but laughing hard at the same time.

Margaret update: Tonight when I was milking, Margaret walked into the milking parlor and said she wanted to try milking a goat. She did well, so tomorrow morning the two of us will milk together, which is great because it will give Mike more time for gardening. We added a fourth goat to the milking string, so I'm hopeful that we'll be back up to milking nine again soon!

Garden update: Mike is picking about 5 pounds of green beans every day, as well as a couple pounds of okra. Today he got six medium-sized yellow tomatoes, and there are a couple dozen banana peppers on the plants that need to be picked. It's time to get busy with more canning.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Mystery unraveling and decision delayed

The call came from Animal Control. After the woman asked a lot of boring questions about my daughter and the dog (age of daughter, breed of dog, etc.), she asked, "Was the attack provoked in any way?" I said, "There's a rather long answer to that question," and I began to explain how Sovalye's behavior changed after he was treated for heartworms and how he didn't want to go into the pasture and how my daughter was trying to force him. She said the same thing that blog readers and people on my homesteading list have said -- it sounds like he was really scared to go out there, and she was trying to force him to do something that really scared him. It's hard to believe that anything could scare a dog that big, but I think that is what happened.

We were discussing this over lunch, and we've started piecing together a timeline of what has happened between the predators, the sheep, and Sovalye. We put him in the sheep pasture, and he stayed in there for three days, even though he could have easily gotten out. On the fourth morning, we found him in the barn. He's been refusing to stay in the pasture ever since then. In fact, he won't even go into the pasture by himself. He also had some scrapes and cuts on him back then, which we just attributed to him injuring himself trying to get out of the pasture.

"A couple weeks later," according to my blog on July 13, we discovered two ewes had been killed and eaten by coyotes. In my blog post on the attack we blamed the dog for not being in there when Princess was killed the night before and when Fee had been killed a few nights earlier. A coyote attacked our geese on May 23, and we saw a coyote trying to get through the fence to get our chickens on a Sunday in June, although I didn't blog about that, so we can't pin down the date. The point here is that we have what is considered a heavy predator load. Two nights ago, Mike saw a fox in front of the barn where a turkey was attacked about three weeks ago.

Now we are wondering if Sovalye was in the pasture when Fee was attacked or maybe he fought off coyotes before Fee was attacked but then decided we don't pay him enough to do such a dangerous job. When I asked for advice on an LGD list in July after the attack on the sheep, some people said that with a predator load this heavy, one dog was not enough, and it's possible that he is staying in the barn to save his own skin. The night after the attack, we put a horse halter on Sovalye's body (he can get himself out of a dog collar or harness) and tied him in the pasture with Katherine, who spent the night out there. As long as she was there, he stayed put, but when she left in the morning, he figured out how to wriggle himself out of the horse halter and went into the barn.

I just cannot view this dog as an aggressive animal. When we go out there, he comes up to us wagging his tail. After a bit of petting, he drops to the ground and rolls over for a belly rub. A dominant dog wouldn't do that, right? And I can't get it out of my head that he could have ripped Margaret apart. He didn't. He can crush a raccoon in one bite. When snapping at her didn't stop her from taking him into the pasture, he made contact, and instead of getting more aggressive with each bite, he gave up after four bites and rolled over on his back. He let her take him down, because there is no way my 5'2" daughter could have overcome him if he was really trying to hurt her.

Several people have mentioned the issue of trust, but one thing I've learned out here is that it's crazy to 100% trust an animal that is bigger than me or one that could conceivably injure me. I've heard it's always the friendliest rams that break the shepherd's legs, because the shepherd turns his back on him. I've had a huge amount of respect for Sovalye ever since I saw him kill his first raccoon at only eight months, and I remember saying that I'm glad he likes us.

I wish I knew what happened out in that pasture. I think that would explain a lot. I don't know if Sovalye's ultimate fate will be any different, but I want to understand what happened. If we made a mistake, I don't want to make the same mistake with another dog. However, we won't be doing anything for another eight days.

I was not happy with the vet's opinion yesterday, and even less happy that she had her vet tech tell me her recommendation for the dog without talking to me and knowing the circumstances behind the attack or why I wanted to have him checked out. Today, I learned that the vet tech had left out one little detail. When Animal Control called, I learned that if we have him euthanized before 10 days, they will cut off his head and send it to a state lab to be tested for rabies, which is "very expensive." (The fact that he has had his rabies shot is irrelevant in a bite case.) I didn't even ask the cost, because that is out of the question. We simply have to take him to a vet 10 days after the attack and have him certified free of rabies, and then the case will be closed. Of course, I will be looking for a new vet.

As for Margaret, she continues to heal. Instead of being solid purple, the skin around her eye is yellow and purple, and the swelling is almost gone. Her forearms are still quite sore. She tried penning a letter to her little sister at camp today, and her arm was quickly exhausted by writing, so I will be milking for a while still. In case you're wondering why a 5'2" person would try to take down a 115-pound dog, well, you have to know Margaret. She started college at age 13 and had her first associate degree with honors a month after her 16th birthday. She'd been accepted into five universities to finish her bachelor's degree, but since she couldn't pick a major, she decided to try some more classes at the junior college and completed two more associate degrees by age 18. Now at age 20, she owns a little shop where she sells yarn, roving, fabric, etc and teaches classes in knitting, crocheting, spinning, and felting. She is thinking she wants to finish a degree in biochemistry now, although not sure if she wants to do med school or vet school after that. In the ER Saturday night, she said she did not want to be a vet, but I'm not holding her to that statement. She has written one post on this blog -- back when she and her little sister swam across a flooded creek to save four goats from drowning.

I am thinking that I should never again stop milking completely. It has been quite an adventure these past few days, but through all the spilled milk and sore hands, I am remembering that special bond that you feel with the does when milking. This is one of the good things that has come out of this horrid situation. Another good thing is that my husband has learned to make jam, and I learned that I've been doing it wrong for the past six years.

Thanks to Susan and her boys for coming over this morning to help with milking the goats and snapping green beans.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Update and the vet's response

Sovalye has been locked in a horse stall. Mike took him for a walk last night and noticed that Sovalye wouldn't go anywhere near the pasture. It's so obvious that he just wants to be in the barn. I wish I knew why.

I called the vet office and told them what happened. I said I wanted to have Sovalye checked over to make sure there was no medical reason for him to suddenly be acting like this. Instead of being given an appointment time, I was told that the vet recommended that we put him down. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. It never crossed my mind that she would say that.

Margaret is healing, but I'm a little worried about one of the bites on her arm. It's hot and red, but I can't imagine how it could be getting infected after the irrigation, IV antibiotics, oral antibiotics, and topical antibiotics. If it's not looking better soon, we'll head back to the doctor.

Margaret has her own shop now where she sells yarn and roving and such, and she asked me if I could go in today and run things. So, after successfully milking three goats (woo hoo) this morning, I'm showered and ready to go. I decided to deal with the loss in milk production by leaving the six other does with their single kids. I'm weighing the milk and meeting the amounts that Margaret was getting, so I guess I still know what I'm doing. I just need to get these muscles built back up.

In the midst of all this, Mike picked 15 pounds of green beans and 5 pounds of okra that need to be processed, and there are probably another 5 pounds of green beans out there that need to be picked. Of course, there are gallons more blackberries on the bushes. And the gladiolas have started to bloom. That is something that I can find time to do -- cut the gladiolas and put them in vases all around the house.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hello, God? It's me, Deborah

Today is the first day I have ever, in six years, thought that maybe I was nuts for dragging us all out here. I'm seeing it through different eyes. This isn't Walden. And for once, I miss a convention of suburbia. I want to call in sick today.

Hello, God? This is Deborah. I can't make it to work today. Sorry I can't milk the goats. You see, I haven't milked more than one goat in about four years, and there are three goats out there that really need to be milked -- and six more that should be milked, although they do have a single kid on them. I did it last night, but it was really, really hard, and the goats were patient with my rusty technique and tired hands. If you had any input into their sweet dispositions, I want to say thanks. So, if you could please just turn off the udders, so they don't produce any milk for a few days until Margaret's arms and hand are healed enough for her to milk them again, I'd appreciate it. Not to be greedy or ask for too much, but Mike worked really hard picking about three quarts of blackberries yesterday, and I don't really feel like making blackberry jam today, so if you could stop that whole decaying process, that would be great.

Life out here stops for no one. I was milking goats last night at midnight, saying aloud, "I can do this. I can do this. We can do this, right, Lizzie? Yeah, you're a good girl." When my hands started to cramp up, I'd stop, and Mike would try. But he has only tried to milk a goat once in his life before this. He made little headway, but I appreciated the effort. He was especially helpful in moving the goats into and out of the milking stall, because all nine wanted to get in there and be milked after 18 hours. I was glad he was sitting out there with me, or I think I would have been certifiably insane by the end. As it was, I did catch myself twice chanting, "I think I can. I think I can...." in rhythm with the milk swooshing into the bucket.

Hey, God? It's me again. I just realized I never officially said thank you for not letting Sovalye crush Margaret's face or her arms or her hand. We all really, really thank you for that. I guess if you could just make my hands a little stronger today, that would be great. Now, I need to get out to the barn and milk the goats. Don't worry about the blackberries. If I don't feel like canning this afternoon, I'll find something to do with them so they don't go to waste.

A horrifying experience

Almost two hours ago, Mike and I brought home our 20-year-old daughter Margaret from the hospital. We'd spent more than three hours in the emergency room with her after she was attacked by our livestock guardian dog. After being glued up, stitched up, taped up, and drugged up, I think she will be all right. I must have said, "Everything is going to be all right" at least 30, maybe 40, times since 6:30 when I stood there as helpless as a paraplegic as he snapped and growled at her. She refused to back down, which is probably why she wound up being bitten four times instead of one.

I didn't even realize he'd bitten her when it was happening. She was trying to take him into the pasture, and he didn't want to go. When they got to the barn door, he snapped at her. She yelled at him and tried to put him in a submissive position. I saw him jump up at her and growl. Moments later I would learn that he had bitten her face. She continued trying to correct him, and he wound up biting both of her forearms and one of her hands. From my perspective, I wasn't sure what was happening. She was standing over him, with him finally on his back. She was holding him tightly to the ground as she looked up at me and said, "Is my face bleeding?" All I could say was, "Yes." I remembered my first aid class 20 years ago when the instructor talked about the importance of not letting an injured person know how badly he or she was injured. Don't panic, I told myself. Stay calm. "You're fine," I said, and then realized that lying was probably not the best approach. I quickly added, "Everything is going to be fine." I repeated it several times, not knowing what else to say, afraid to say something that would clue her in to the fact that I was terrified.

Blood was running down her face, on her chest and her arms. Her eye was already swelling and turning purple. She read my face and started crying. Like an idiot, I said, "Don't cry," thinking that it would be a very un-alpha thing for her to do in front of the dog. She started yelling at me to take him. At that point, my adrenaline had kicked in because I wasn't really that afraid of him. I just wanted to help her. I took his lead and moved him a couple steps away from her, then stood there, unable to move. "Okay," I cried. "I don't know what to do! I don't want to put him in a stall because that's what he wanted. That's why he bit you. I can't let him win. But I can't put him back in the pasture, because he'll just jump over the door again and come back in here."

"I don't care what you do with him," she screamed. "Just get him away from me!"

"Okay," I said decisively and started walking up and down the barn trying to decide which stall to put him into. Orally, I debated the benefits or disadvantages of each one. Finally, I put him in his favorite stall, because I knew he would lay down and go to sleep. I couldn't worry about what to do with him. I knew I had to get Margaret to the hospital.

By then, Jonathan had come into the barn because he heard the screaming. I told him to go find his father who was across the creek picking blackberries. Margaret became more upset as she saw the swelling and the blood on her arms and her hand. She kept asking me about her face. All I could say was, "Yes, it's bleeding, but it's going to be okay. We're going to take you to the hospital."

At the hospital, they did multiple x-rays of her face, her arms, and her hand. After getting all the blood cleaned up, we learned that her entire face had been in the dog's mouth. His upper canines went into the skin of her lower right eyelid, scratching the right half of her face as he let her go. His lower canines scraped under her left jaw without breaking the skin, but creating a wide abrasion. We were thankful that his teeth had not been any closer to her eye, so there doesn't appear to be any damage to the eyeball at all.

We also realized that he really didn't want to hurt her. He was just letting her know that he did not want to leave the barn. Knowing how he can crush a full-grown raccoon between his jaws in one bite, we know he could have crushed her face. That knowledge is terrifying and yet it is somewhat redeeming in a bizarre, twisted way. It could have been so much worse.

Physically, she will heal. The doctor glued the bites on her face and "loosely" stitched up the bites on one arm. The doctor said they don't like to stitch up dog bites because it's better to let them "drain" -- or bleed. It lowers the risk of infection, so they only stitch up or glue whatever is really necessary. They didn't stitch or glue anything for almost three hours, and all of the injuries were still bleeding/draining at that point -- which they pointed out was a good thing. It was just a little surreal to see something bleeding for so long. The skin around her right eye is black and swollen, and both of her forearms have areas swollen as large as oranges.

Mentally, I think healing will be harder. She never stopped crying for more than a couple minutes from the time she realized she had been bitten until ... well, I'm not sure. I left her room just before I started writing this post, and she was still trying not to cry. She said the pain wasn't "that bad," but she was exhausted and yet afraid to go to sleep. "Nightmares can be so scary," she said. I told her to think about happy things and then wanted to grab the words in mid-air before they reached her ears. I laid down on her bed next to her with my hand on her shoulder, hoping that would make her feel better than my ridiculous attempts at conversation. I couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't sound trite or silly or ridiculous. I remembered when she was 6 years old and I would read aloud the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. From her safe bedroom in the Chicago suburbs, we thought it sounded so exciting to live a simpler life on a farm.

It was obvious what the nurses felt, even though they didn't admit their feelings openly. One spoke jovially to Margaret about having her own dominant alpha dog at home, but another asked seriously, "What are you going to do with the dog?" when Margaret was taken out for x-rays. "We're discussing it right now," Mike said. When she was giving us the discharge information, she said that the report would be turned over to animal control and they'd be calling us on Monday. I asked her what that meant, and she said they'd want to know about the dog's vaccine history and what we were planning to do with him.

And that brings me to the hardest decision that I've ever had to make. I know Sovalye has saved the lives of many animals on this farm when he protected them from predators. He has probably saved the lives of many more than we will ever know, because he was usually working when we were sleeping. Up until a couple months ago, he had been an outstanding guardian. It seems to be the zenith of cruelty and ungratefulness to put him down, but it seems irresponsible to let him continue to live.


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