Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fresh garden salsa!

Several people have asked for my salsa recipe over the past couple months. Sorry it's taken me so long to get to this. We actually picked 90 pounds of tomatoes on September 8. We froze about 32 pounds, and we made salsa and spaghetti sauce. Jonathan and Margaret picked the tomatoes, then Katherine and I slipped the skins off. I was recently talking to someone about this and realized that many people wind up with burned fingertips because they pull boiling hot tomatoes out of the pot and try to pull off the skins immediately. To save your fingers, you need to put the tomatoes in a large bowl of cold water for a couple minutes. They'll cool off, and you can painlessly peel them.

As for my salsa recipe ... I just use whatever we have in the garden at the time. This batch included tomatoes, banana peppers, jalapenos, garlic, and onions. I like to let it sit for an hour or two to give the tomatoes a chance to drain, then I pour off as much liquid as I can. You only need to let it cook for 15 minutes or so, but I let it cook longer to reduce more liquid. I'm not a big fan of watery salsa. I added salt and vinegar, according to the ratios used in the Ball Blue Book.

The vinegar is only important if you are actually canning the salsa. If you are going to eat it right away, the amount of vinegar you use is not important, but you have to refrigerate the salsa. Basically, vinegar is the preservative for canning salsa. If you like fresh-tasting salsa (no vinegar), you can freeze it to make it last longer.

Monday, September 29, 2008


I've been down both physically and emotionally for the past week. Last Wednesday, I was stepping over a barbed wire fence, and my pants got caught in a barb, and I landed on my butt. (Before anyone gets excited about my sheep and goats and barbed wire, don't worry. The barbed wire is not used in any of the sheep and goat pastures.) I had been without my NSAIDs and muscle relaxers for two weeks and was hoping that I hadn't wrecked my neck. When I woke up Thursday morning feeling fine, I thought I had escaped injury. Then Thursday night, I was looking at the floor and started to lift my head and realized my neck was locked up again. It wouldn't move in any direction, and it was excruciating to even try.

So, I am back to Square 1, taking meds every day. I saw a neurosurgeon last month and decided to try physical therapy under the supervision of a physiatrist -- sort of a combo physician and physical therapist. He must be a very popular guy, because it takes about a month to get an appointment, so I still have to wait another two weeks for that appointment. In the meantime, I've started doing yoga, which I thought was helping until I fell.

I'm also down about the economy and general state of the nation. Hearing politicians and economist say the "D" word brings back memories of my parents talking about the Depression they lived through. They adopted me when they were in their 40s and 50s, which is why they were old enough to have lived through the Depression. Anyway, I haven't been worried about us surviving a depression. My mother always said that they were never hungry because they lived on a farm, but my parents were always scared of people stealing things from them. And then last week I read on another blog about thieves shooting someone's cow and chopping off the biggest pieces of meat to steal. To make me worry more, I heard that unemployment in our county jumped two percent last month, and in some parts of the state, it's over 10%. It makes me wonder what kind of a world we will be facing in another month or two.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sensible eating

Tara Parker-Pope of the NY Times has a great column on sensible eating -- paying more attention to what you eat rather than just counting calories, carbs, or fat grams. A couple of different surveys have shown that about five percent fewer people are dieting now than five years ago, and 53 percent of consumers say they are cooking at home more now than they were six months ago. That's great news for losing weight. If you saw Supersize Me, you've already heard about how restaurants -- especially fast food -- are serving larger portions than three decades ago. Another interesting tidbit:
Last year, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported on a study of 97 obese women, all of whom were avoiding high-fat foods. Half the women were instructed to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables. By the end of a year, the women who were focused on adding vegetables lost an average of 17 pounds, 20 percent more than the women who were just paying attention to fat consumption.
And this morsel:
... the more time people spend on tasks like food shopping, cooking and kitchen cleanup, the more likely they are to be of average weight. The Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture found that people of normal weight spend more time on meal-related tasks than people who are overweight or underweight.
The article ends with the advice to eat really good food, and although that sounds so bland, it is so true. Six years ago, when I lived in the 'burbs, I would never have thought that I could become such a food snob. But living in the middle of nowhere, it becomes ridiculously obvious that driving somewhere for dinner is silly, so we cook all of our meals, unless we happen to be away from home at mealtime. And then we're pretty darn picky about where we eat. Once you get accustomed to fresh, natural foods, you can taste the "old" milk in the Starbuck's latte, the anemic eggs in the McMuffin, and the preservatives and chemicals in the McDonald's apple pie.

Tonight's dinner is goat cheese pizza with our own homegrown sweet and hot peppers and homemade goat cheese.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Llamas and lambs

The llamas are moved! Yesterday, as Mike and I worked on moving the turkey mama and her poults to a new movable pen, we talked about how to catch the llamas. I knew Margaret was out in the pasture with them, but I figured she was just hanging out. Then I saw a llama walking in front of our small barn. I screeched and pointed because there is no fence between the front of the barn and the road. Just as I was about to really panic, I saw Margaret walking from between the barns leading another llama. She was talking sweetly to Sterling to come along and follow his brother -- and he did! Katherine was coming up the rear holding the halter and lead rope that should have been on Sterling.

Margaret recalled that Sterling and Merlin have been together their whole lives, and they're around 12, which is why the llama breeder wanted to sell them together. So, Margaret assumed Sterling would follow along. Unfortunately, my camera beeped that the memory card was full after I'd taken only two pictures, but the boys cooperated quite nicely and are now living with the sheep.

So, how did Margaret succeed all by herself where three of us had failed before? She went into the pasture and started following Merlin quietly and slowly, showing him the halter and explaining to him that she just needed to put it on for a short walk to their new pasture. "I complimented their intelligence," she told me with a smile. Mike and I were only briefly humiliated before we realized that she had just saved us a ton of work, and we should just be thankful that she had taken care of a job that we had all been dreading.

As for the coyotes ... This morning, Mike went out and climbed up a tree near the sheep pasture to see if they showed up again. Although he didn't see a coyote, he did have a chat with a sheriff's deputy. Apparently he saw Mike sitting up in the tree as he drove by, because he pulled into our driveway, turned around, and drove back over to the pasture to ask what was wrong. Mike just said, "Coyotes," and the deputy said that he had seen one at the pig farm two miles south of us. Mike decided to stay in the tree for another hour in case it decided to have lamb for breakfast, but it never showed up.

Now that the llamas are in with the sheep, I am hoping the lambs are safe. White Feather had a ram lamb a few days ago. So far, all five sheep that have lambed have had singles, so although they do ovulate in April, obviously they don't ovulate much. Newborn lambs look so cute and wobbly! In case you've lost track, we've have four rams and only one ewe so far.

The oldest lambs are so much fun to watch. They chase each other and push each other around. On Friday, they were using these two trees as their jungle gym. When I was across the pasture, they were running figure-eights through here. The two oldest lambs would jump up on the area where the two trees have grown together and then launch themselves into the air as if they were flying. Unfortunately as I tried to sneak closer, they got shy, so here you can see the little ewe peeking at me from behind her favorite play spot.

I'm certain now that the little ewe is brown. When I first looked at her pictures on my blog, I thought her wool didn't look quite black, but it wasn't until I saw her in the sunlight that I started to think she was brown. You can see when she is standing next to a truly black lamb that I was right. She is our only brown ewe, and we couldn't be more excited about it. She is actually Margaret's ewe, which is exciting for her, because she only has white ewes.

On a final note, I am happy to report that Teddy has improved dramatically since his attack in July. When talking to a couple of shepherds that have had similar experiences, they assured me he would heal and that he would even grow wool where the coyotes had ripped off his skin. And indeed, he has! The four-inch by six-inch area is almost completely healed and 1/4-inch wool is already growing on the new skin! If a human lost that much skin, we'd have to have a skin graft. The healing ability of animals is truly amazing to me.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Unwanted visitors

This morning, Mike and I were talking shortly before 7 a.m. when we heard Sovalye making a very strange noise. It wasn't barking or growling. I said it sounded like whining. Mike said it sounded like Sovalye was frustrated. Finally, Mike decided to head out to see what was happening. "Take the gun," I said.

A few minutes later, three shots sliced through the early-morning silence. I hurried to the window and saw Mike running down the road. "What is it?" I yelled.


It was a long shot, probably much too long for a pistol, and the coyotes went running into the cornfield across the road from the sheep pasture. By the time Mike reached the pasture, there were no coyotes in sight. He counted four lambs.

This afternoon we were walking down the road and found a lot of coyote prints of various sizes. It definitely looks like a pack with pups. The llamas still are not in there with the sheep, but we need to figure out something. They need a guardian. This is the second time we've seen coyotes down there in the past week, but now that we have lambs, I'm worried about putting the llamas in there with them. I keep remembering the donkey that killed a young ewe a few years ago. It's the old Catch 22 my mama used to talk about ... damned if you do and damned if you don't. Sometimes you don't know what the right answer is until after you've done the wrong thing.

Sad day for Pocahontas

Yesterday Katherine called me when I was at the college. Pocahontas had lambed and was running around screaming. The lamb was dead. Katherine said it was probably born dead because the lamb's legs were still stretched out behind its body as if it never moved once it was born. It's sad when any animal dies, but it is especially heart breaking in this case because Pocahontas seems to experience nothing but sadness and grief in mothering. And she is such a wonderfully attentive mother.

Last year, she had twin ewes. One little ewe suffered fly strike. The ewe lamb, Princess, didn't recognize her mother by the time she was able to go back to the pasture, even though Pocahontas definitely remembered her baby. She came running to the gate as soon as I walked into the pasture. She stared at the baby and talked to her. Princess hid behind me, not remembering her mother at all. Finally, Pocahontas walked away slowly but continually looking behind her and calling her baby to follow. It wasn't very long until the coyotes ate her other baby.

Today Pocahontas looks very sad. She is laying around the pasture with her head on the ground. She stands up, turns around, and lays down again. I'm sure her udder is quite full and painful. I'd like to milk her, but she is not very friendly. Maybe ...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Floods and lambs

The best part of Sunday was breakfast. I made biscuits, veggie sausage, and fried breakfast potatoes with sweet peppers.

Not much happened on Sunday. The rain continued, and the creek kept rising. We learned that the sheep's new shelter was prone to flooding, and Mike made a temporary shelter for them with a tarp nailed between trees on higher ground. Of course, all the usual pastures flooded. But since losing so many animals to coyotes during floods when the fence is dead, we moved everyone to pastures without electric fencing once we realized a flood was eminent. You see that thing sticking up in the middle of the water? That's one of the fence posts for the electric fence, and you can also see a lot of dead branches that were washed downstream and got tangled in the fence. It's a mess to clean up!

Even the pond behind our house went beyond its banks. This was definitely a bigger flood than we normally get. When we were looking for property, we wanted a place with either a pond or a creek. We thought we were so lucky to get both. We had no idea that when you have these beautiful features, you will also have floods. Nor did we realize that a creek provides a great home for families of coyotes and foxes.

In the midst of the storm, we were blessed with a new life. Minerva gave birth to a spotted ram. I know there is a proper Shetland name for his color and markings, but rather than scratching my head and looking at the Shetland website, I'll just ask my Shetland friends to offer a suggestion as to the proper terminology for him. I'm thinking that Minerva is shaela after reading Nancy's very informative post on that color.

Since the two yearling rams were different colors -- gray and brown -- I am wondering if I'll be able to figure out who Daddy is based upon the color. I think the little ewe might actually be a dark chocolate just like Charlie when he was born. I thought he was black for a few days before Margaret pointed out that he was not the same color as Rambrant who was definitely born black.

On second thought, maybe breakfast wasn't the best part of Sunday.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Lost kid

I've been hesitant to make this post. I suppose I've been in denial, thinking that it couldn't possibly be true. A couple days ago, I counted the goats across the creek, and I came up one short. I ran through the list of the goats that should have been there, and there was no little white buckling. We had several white bucklings this year, so I asked Margaret if Annie's little kid was still supposed to be there. Yeah, he was supposed to be there. But we couldn't find him.

Katherine went out there yesterday and started looking through the woods. She found a large intestine that was the right size to be from a goat kid, although she couldn't find anything else. No bones. No skin.

We've never lost a goat before, and Margaret suggested that the little guy had gone through the electric fence. I stayed with the goats longer than normal yesterday, and once they became accustomed to my presence, they walked off and started grazing. Lil, the little doeling that had a sucking disorder at birth, walked right through the electric fence as if it didn't bother her at all. I wanted to explain to her that it was a dangerous world out there, but she wouldn't understand. Today, Katherine told me she saw another kid go through the fence.

Last night, when I was driving home, a coyote ran across the road and into the cornfield a couple miles from my farm. I wonder what's caused their population to skyrocket to such a ridiculous level. When I ran into the sheep shearer a few days ago, he was telling me that a farm four miles northwest of us had almost no lambs this year, because the coyotes got most of them.

We have moved the goats from across the creek to the barn pasture where they should be safe. But we can't leave them there forever, or we'll wind up with parasite problems again. It is amazing how the coyotes' presence is like a pebble thrown into a pond. It affects where the goats can graze, which results in altered nutrition and heavier parasite loads. The weather this fall isn't nearly as nice as last year, so it's less comfortable for us to spend the night in the pasture, but if we don't come up with another alternative, we'll have to start taking the goats out to graze during the day ... or we may need to cut the herd in half. As much as I don't want to sell any, I'd rather see them go to another home than be eaten by coyotes or compromised by parasites.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Another lamb!

Last night I went out to the sheep pasture to see how everyone was doing. All the sheep were scattered across the grass grazing, and then I caught a glimpse of a sheep behind some trees. Seeing silvery-white wool and a black head, I knew it was Majik. As she turned her back to me, I saw a flash of red. Blood? I slowly walked towards the trees where she was standing, and I called her name as I walked, so I wouldn't scare her. And then I saw it -- a little black lamb with white around his mouth and ears. I didn't have to get very close to know it was a ram, because he has huge horn buds.

I heard a car coming down the gravel road and knew it would be Margaret. I ran to the road and flagged her down for a ride back to the house. I grabbed the camera and some Triscuits for Majik. I walked back out to the pasture and started taking pictures. Whenever Majik acted like she was ready to leave, I'd sneak her a Triscuit so the other sheep couldn't see it. Finally she decided she wanted to stay with me, and I got about 25 pictures of her new baby. Unforunately, the camera and computer are having a little disagreement this morning, and I could only download the first seven, so you'll just have to trust me when I say that he's as cute as a lamb can be! And big!

And I'm excited about all the white sprinkled through his fiber because that means he's going to be gray.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A lamb!

Last night when I walked out to the new sheep pasture to refill their mineral feeder, it looked like a small cat was standing underneath one of the white ewes. That's odd, I thought. I can't imagine that the ewe would let the cat stand under her like that. Uh, maybe it's not a cat. I watched for a few seconds before reality dawned -- as I watched it wobble, I realized it's a lamb. I screamed at the top of my lungs for Margaret to come, because all of the white sheep are hers.

After she arrived, she caught the little lamb and figured out it was a ewe, and she told me the mama was Ophelia, daughter of Fee, who was killed by coyotes this summer.

Then reality really struck. Those sheep are not fat! They're pregnant! I had been thinking that Minerva and White Feather and Pocahontas were getting really fat, but that's not the case at all. I caught White Feather and checked her for an udder -- yep, it's there! It's only a small handful, but it's there, so probably in another two to four weeks, she'll be lambing. I started looking at the other ewes directly from the front or back, and yes, there are several others who seem unusually wide.

So, how exactly did this happen? We had our two adult rams locked up in their own separate pen until shearing in June. But, by April, we assumed (wrongly) that the sheep wouldn't be cycling any longer, so we let the two young yearling rams into the pasture with the ewes and wethers. That means that Charlie and Rambrant are the sires of these lambs. I am really excited except that it means some inbreeding took place. White Feather is Rambrandt's mother and Charlie's grandmother. I hope that everyone is born with all the right parts in the right places, but I am ecstatic about the new life on the farm this fall. What an unexpected gift!

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Yesterday, Katherine and I were at a fall harvest festival. I was doing soapmaking demonstrations, and Katherine was spinning all day. I am ambivalent about doing these things. It is a lot more work than you originally think, but I get paid for doing it, and I don't get paid for sitting at home, so it's a good idea financially. Then there is the whole education aspect. Most people know nothing about heritage livestock, heirloom vegetables, and sustainable agriculture, and I get a chance to educate them. Yesterday, hundreds of people saw baby turkeys for the first time in their lives.

I don't expect every person to be as excited as I am about all of this, but it's rewarding when a person comes along who is "disturbed" by the fact their supermarket turkey was the product of artificial insemination.

We raise heritage turkeys on our farm because they are sustainable. A heritage turkey is defined as one that can breed naturally and fly. Although they do come in a lot of beautiful colors, heritage turkeys can also be white. Commercial turkeys are too big to fly or mate, which is why they would be extinct in a single generation without human intervention. Obviously, being unable to reproduce naturally means they are not sustainable.
I must have repeated that soliloquy a few dozen times yesterday. Most people just nod and say something neutral like, "Oh." One woman said, "That's disturbing." One man laughed and asked how they do it. I said matter-of-factly that it was someone's job to harvest turkey semen and then inseminate female turkeys. "I don't think you really want to know the details," I added. He and his friends laughed.

It's sad that more people aren't disturbed by this knowledge. But I remind myself that we live in a country where people are content to fill their bellies with things that are not even food. Most of them only roast a turkey once or twice a year. The rest of the year they eat McSomethings and drink artificially-flavored, artificially-colored, and artificially-sweetened liquids. Who's got time to worry about the sex lives of turkeys?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Animal power

I found this video while surfing the Blogosphere today. It's about a diversifed sustainable farm in California that uses only animal power. One of our goals here is to use draft animals, but it's one of those areas where we've been less than successful so far. You might recall that when Clare, the la mancha goat, had her buckling at the end of May, I was actually excited, because I've been wanting a larger wether for driving. Little Maestro has been wethered, and we're excited about teaching him to drive, so we can use him in the garden for plowing and for pulling a manure cart from the barn to the garden. As Daniel says in the video, we'll always have grass, so we won't have to worry about the price of gas or diesel.

Monday, September 1, 2008

New home for the sheep

We finally got the east pasture fenced for the sheep. Last night was a lovely comedy of errors as we tried to herd the sheep through a variety of trails to get them to go their new pasture, but they are creatures of habit, and they really did not want to head through any gates that they had not gone through before. Yes, last spring they were gallivanting all over the countryside, going through fences and gates of all sorts. I can't say that I completely understand how sheep think.

As the sun was setting last night, Porter got the sheep cornered, and we resorted to either carrying them or leading them individually to a holding pen where they could be loaded onto a trailer this morning. So, this morning, we resorted to the 20th century sheep moving technique of trailering. They didn't seem to mind too much. (Yes, there is a single babydoll sheep in my herd of Shetlands.)

They were a little shy about getting out of the trailer once they arrived at their new home, but once one hopped out, the others were fast to follow. We had to take them in two separate trips because we just have a small two-horse trailer.
And they really seem to love their new shelter. Or maybe they're just a little freaked out by the new place, and the shelter seems safer than the wide open woods?

In a couple weeks, we need to separate rams and ewes into breeding groups! And yeah, we have to figure out how to get a couple llamas over here. That's why we wound up trying to move the sheep last night. We were trying to catch the llamas first, and that did not go well at all! So, you'll be hearing more about llama moving in a few days ... or a week ... or ... Anyone got any suggestions for catching llamas?


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