Saturday, February 28, 2009

FAMACHA certified!

Today I attended a goat health seminar, and in the afternoon there was an optional FAMACHA class. I am so jaded about vets knowing nothing about goats (or having outdated information) that I wasn't really excited about going to anything other than the FAMACHA training, but I figured that if I was going to drive almost two hours to get there, I might as well arrive early. I'm so glad I decided to attend the whole workshop, because the vet who spoke about goat health has actually been raising goats for 15 years, so I learned some interesting and helpful information about milk composition and extra teats.

But the FAMACHA training really excited me, even though I've been trying to use it for the past couple of years in spite of my lack of formal training. I wondered how they would talk about it for two to three hours since it can be explained in one sentence: It's a system where you check a goat's (or sheep's) anemia status by looking at the inside of the eyelids and using dewormer only on goats (or sheep) that are anemic. Well, that was about the last 15 minutes of the workshop! What else did we learn?

Why was the FAMACHA system developed? Well, since the 1980s, there have been no new classes of dewormers discovered. Unfortunately, vets and livestock producers were lulled into a false sense of security by how well they worked initially. Parasites, and especially haeomonchus contortus (known as barberpole worm), adapted beautifully to the dewormers, and now some goat and sheep breeders lose as much as 20% of their animals yearly because of dewormer resistance and parasite overload. Wow, huh! And I thought I had a problem last summer!

Veterinary advice in the past was to administer dewormer to all goats or sheep at the same time. Unfortunately, this created a big problem. Based on a LOT of research, the newest advice is to deworm as seldom as possible. Only deworm animals that are anemic. But since we don't all want to be out in the pasture drawing blood from all our animals every couple weeks, this system was developed as a way to check on their hematocrit without drawing blood. We check the inside of the eyelids. By treating fewer animals, it will take longer for the parasites to develop resistance. For more on the FAMACHA system, check out the website for the Southern Consortium of Small Ruminant Parasite Control.

The FAMACHA vet and another speaker talked about rotating pastures as a means of preserving pasture, as well as reducing parasite load on the pasture. I've been practicing pasture rotation for five years, but I've been doing it incorrectly when it comes to the parasite management part. The vet at U of I told me to deworm and then move the goats immediately to a clean pasture. Apparently, this was the standard advice a few years ago. Now they realize that the goat or sheep should stay on the old pasture for three or four days after deworming and shed all the eggs in the old pasture, because the offspring of survivors are obviously resistant to the dewormer. So, if you move them immediately, you are taking resistant worms to the new pasture.

I can't possibly tell you everything I learned this afternoon, but hopefully I've made you excited enough that you'll visit the website for the Southern Consortium of Small Ruminant Parasite Control and learn more about this for your own flock or herd. If you ever have a FAMACHA training in your area, I'd highly recommend attending!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sustaining ourselves

When Margaret screamed up the stairs this morning, "Coco still has her ligaments," she quickly added, "Stop wrinkling up your forehead!" because she knew my nonverbal response. She lectured me yesterday on the complete worthlessness of worrying about Coco's impending birth, so I'm trying to think of something else! I started reading blogs and came upon a new one, recommended by Vintage Flapper. Tread Softly has a great post on the Morality of Frugality. It was one of those moments when you're sure you hear the Twilight Zone music playing in the background, because just two days ago, I picked up a copy of Walden Two by B.F. Skinner in the library and read the 1976 foreword, which said:

Consider the following economic propositions. The first is from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: by reducing the amount of goods we consume, we can reduce the amount of time we spend in unpleasant labor. The second appears to assert just the opposite: we must all consume as much as possible so that everyone can have a job. I submit that the first one is more reasonable, even though the second is defended by many people today. Indeed, it might be argued that if America were to convert to a network of small communities, our economy would be wrecked. But something is wrong when it is the system that must be saved rather than the way of life that the system is supposed to serve.

I read it over and over, hardly able to believe it was written 35 years ago, because he could have written it yesterday. Between Skinner and Tread Softly, I think it is pretty obvious what we need to be doing right now, and it ain't buying more lawn ornaments and $700 purses! The system is so broken, I really don't know how it's going to get fixed, but I know my family will be fed, clothed, and sheltered -- and happily entertained with all the activity that it takes to feed, clothe, and shelter us.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Waiting and wondering

Coco is still pregnant -- and huge. I was expecting her to kid a month ago, because she was already as big as the other goats who were due last month. She just keeps getting bigger, but her ligaments are still there. Her udder seems fairly full, certainly big enough to feed kids, but I know that her udder could get bigger. We're assuming that she won't give birth tonight, since she doesn't have any of those eminent signs of impending labor. Still, I'm worried. If she were to have three or more kids, she probably could not get all of them cleaned up before they got hypothermia.

Five years ago, Carmen was one of triplets, and we weren't there. She wound up with such severe hypothermia that she couldn't even suck for 24 hours, so we had to tube feed her. That was terrifying. I had absolutely no experience in doing that -- had never even seen someone do it! The local vet refused to help, other than to explain to me how to do it over the phone. I called my goat mentor for advice, and I checked online for advice. Then I finally did it. Obviously she survived. And I survived too, even though I was crying, "Please don't die" as I held her and fed her, hoping I had put the tube into her stomach and not her lungs.

I'm so glad that Anne did such a great job with her babies, even though no one was around to help her. I was out of town, and no one expected her to kid Friday afternoon. But with only two babies, it's not too hard for a goat mama to get them cleaned up. And I'm sure they're not Draco's -- I definitely think they're Tennessee William's babies. But since they're both boys, they'll just be wethered and sold as pets, so it doesn't even matter.

Well, it's time to get to bed. I have a busy day ahead tomorrow.

You think motherhood is tough?

If only I'd had goats before I had my human kids, I would have complained a lot less about how tough it is raising a baby! Human kids might like to crawl all over your lap, but they don't stand on top of you every time you sit down. Ouch! That's gotta hurt! But Charlotte and Sherri are such good mamas, they don't even seem to notice.

And although human kids nurse a lot, they are no competition for goat kids, which nurse for about 20 seconds every five or ten minutes that mama is standing up. And when mama starts to walk away, goat kids don't let go easily!

And I'm still trying to figure out why animals with only two teats often have three or four kids!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Anne's kids

Hello all! This is Margaret, Deborah's eldest, filling in while she is away on her birthday weekend.

Well, we had a bit of a surprise on Friday. I checked Anne's ligaments in the morning before I went to work and thought they were there, though I did notice her udder had bagged up a bit. Later that afternoon Mom called me.

"Did you check Anne's ligaments this morning?"

"Yep. They were there."



"Would you bet money on that?"


"Why not?"

"Because of the way you're saying that."

"But you said you were sure."

"Well, now I'm not."

Turns out Anne must have given birth around three o'clock that afternoon. Jonathan, my brother, was the one that found them at about five, and they were almost dry. So she did a good job on her own, at least. First birth we've missed this year. She had twin bucks that are well matched!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cleo's babies

Cleo is actually Maly's Cleopatra, which means she was born in Margaret's herd. But with Margaret going off to college next year, she sold me all of her goats, which means lovely Cleo is mine. She is an absolute joy to milk, so when Margaret decided she didn't want goats any longer, I had to buy her. Now I don't need as many goats as I have already, so I said I was going to sell all the kids born this year. I have such a hard time parting with goats that have already become my friends, I figured the only way I'll ever reduce my herd size is if I just don't keep any kids for a couple of years. That's easy to say, but it is another thing entirely to actually carry through with it! This is Cleo's little buckling, and I think he's polled. You can usually feel buck's horn buds when they're born, and since I'm not feeling any, he is probably polled, but we'll need to keep checking every day for at least a week.

Now, how can I sell this adorable little girl with the cute white capri pants? She might be polled too, but it takes longer to figure out with girls, since they aren't usually born with pokey horn buds like bucklings. If she is polled and has these cute pants -- oh!

Now I need names -- any ideas? Cleo's theme is Ancient Egypt.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cleo and Lizzie are mamas now!

So much has been happening the last couple days that I haven't had time to blog. Cleo kidded yesterday with buck/doe twins, and Lizzie kidded today with buck/doe twins. Both had fairly long labors, compared to our other goats. I knew Cleo was in labor yesterday morning when she wouldn't eat her grain and wouldn't stop talking to me. I sent Katherine outside to stay with her since I had to teach yesterday afternoon.

Cleo kidded around 1:30. Katherine said it was one of the most interesting births she's ever attended. The first kid was breech, but it was back legs first, rather than butt first, which is a fairly common presentation. She said that once the two legs were out, the kid started kicking wildly whenever she touched its legs. I've asked her to write up a blog post about it, but she's pretty busy with school. She started college this year and is taking four classes this semester, in addition to finishing up algebra at home. In any case, I will get up pictures of Cleo's kids tomorrow!

Last night, I went out to see Cleo's new kids, and I checked ligaments on the three other goats still due. Lizzie's ligaments were barely there. I may not come across as a satin PJ kind of gal, but I wanted nothing more last night than to put on my satin PJs and crawl into my nice, warm flannel sheets. After throwing a little pity party for myself, I decided that I couldn't risk having Lizzie kid in the middle of the night without someone there to dry off the kids, since the temperature was around freezing. I was pretty sure she was having twins, but I didn't want to gamble on that. Most goat mamas could clean up two kids before they got hypothermia in this weather, but probably not three or more. So I spent last night in the barn. Of course, she didn't kid.

Around noon today, I knew she was getting close. The upper part of her belly was completely hollow looking, meaning the kids had dropped. (See photo. Her belly isn't perfectly round anymore; there's a hollow area near her spine.) Poor girl couldn't get comfortable either. She'd lay down, push her legs out in front of her, get up, turn around, lay down, sit like a dog, get up -- you get the idea. At 12:30, I hurried inside for a quick lunch of Jonathan's pork chili. Then I was back in the pen with her at 12:45. She'd lay down against me, push a tiny little push, get up, take a couple steps, lay down -- and on and on. After an hour, I was about to fall asleep in the straw, so I decided to lay down on the futon in the barn office. Sneakers, the four-year-old barn cat, curled up next to me, and the next thing I knew, it was 2:45!

I momentarily wondered if I'd missed the birth. I had really expected Lizzie to kid sooner than that. Then I heard a loud bleat. Hmm . . . that could have been the sound of a goat pushing. A couple minutes later, I heard the unmistakable scream of a goat pushing. I pulled on my coat and went back out to sit with Lizzie. There was a bubble under her tail, so she was finally getting serious. Then there was another bubble. Oh dear, we had one of those last spring -- two kids were trying to be born at once. Then another bubble -- and another bubble! Yes, there were four bubbles sticking out of her back end. As a long string of expletives went through my head, I told myself she couldn't possibly be trying to give birth to four kids at once!

Then I saw a hoof in one of the bubbles. A few more pushes, and I saw a nose. Then I noticed there was a tongue sticking out of the mouth. Once the head was out, I realized it was quite a large kid. There was only one leg out, which the books will tell you is a problem, but it's never been a problem for us, and it happens a lot. A few more pushes, and a great big buckling was born! I didn't even look between the legs -- I was just assuming it was a buck because it was so big. Then I realized I hadn't actually checked the sex, so I lifted his hind leg as I was drying him, and verified my assumption.

With such a big boy being born first, the second one practically fell out. At least that's my perception. Lizzie might describe it differently. I did find myself scrambling to grab another dry towel, however, as I saw the second kid shoot out as if being fired from a cannon. One push delivered the head, and a second quick push delivered the rest of the body. There was no time for me to clean the nose before the little doe wanted to start breathing, so she did a fair amount of sneezing.

Both kids were up within 20 minutes, wobbling around the straw and looking for their first meal. The little girl caught on first and went back for seconds, thirds, and more helpings of mama's milk. The little boy took about an hour to figure out how the breakfast bar worked, but he's doing well now.

We're still waiting on Coco and Anne. I am starting to wonder if Anne settled when Draco bred her, because today would be day 150, and her ligaments were not soft when I checked tonight. Will we have more babies from Tennessee Williams?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Who's next?

Four goats are due, and it's tough to figure out who is going to go next. Anne reached day 145 on Friday the 13th; Cleo, yesterday; and Lizzie, tomorrow. I'm not sure when Coco is due. She apparently got herself pregnant one of the many times that Tennessee Williams jumped the fence.

From top to bottom, the ladies in waiting are Coco, Lizzie, Anne, and Cleo. (Sorry about the quality of the photo; it's my cell phone. I can't find my camera.)

Coco has been the biggest pregnant goat, however, for at least three weeks. I thought she would kid around the time that Charlotte did, and my records indicated that Frankie had been loose five months prior to that. But she's still hanging in there, and goats -- at least Nigerian dwarf goats -- don't go more than 151 days, maybe 152, but you won't find any long-time breeders who would agree that they can go any longer than that. So, she definitely got herself pregnant during one of Tennessee's many jaunts into goat utopia. That's the problem with young bucks -- many of them seem to have wings on their feet, which makes flying seem as natural to them as walking. Clearing a four-foot fence requires little effort.

Back to Coco -- she's big, and I'm worried. She was one of quads herself, and her sire's dam frequently had quads and ultimately had six kids one year, which resulted in her death. She gave birth to five kids, and who would have thought she was not finished? Five is incredibly rare. When she died a few days later, a necropsy showed another kid still inside her. Margaret doesn't think Coco is any bigger than Sherri was, and she only had triplets.

Cleo's udder has grown considerably today, which would indicate she's getting quite close. Her ligaments are also softer than anyone else's, so she might kid first. I'm guessing that Lizzie, Cleo, and Anne will all have twins -- and Coco, well -- I'm hoping no more than quads. Triplets would be great.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wish list for my goats

Just when I start to feel content, a few catalogs arrive in the mail, and I remember all the things I want! And this is after ordering $80 of seeds for the vegetable garden this year. So, what do I need . . . um, want?

a milking machine for two goats at one time -- $1,749
a cream separator (since goat milk doesn't separate for days) -- $495
butter churn -- $129 for a hand-cranked version or $289.95 for an electric one
a milking stand with a wire mesh bottom (so I won't be crying over spilled milk) -- $280 to 341.95
a goat driving harness for Hercules -- $175
goat packing equipment -- $189.95 to $367.50
goat cart -- $255 to $400

And it all adds up to $3,400. The biggest chunk is obviously the milking machine, which I can live without until my baby goes off to college in two years. The rest of it only adds up to $1,650, if I get the cheapest of everything. Only $1,650. I guess we could live without the butter-making equipment for another year or two, and I can live with my wooden milk stand. We really do need the driving harness if we're going to use Hercules to help out around the farm, so I guess we'll need to get that . . . and maybe we can figure out how to make a cart for him.

Friday, February 13, 2009

French Women: Part deux

The first couple hundred pages of this book are devoted to food and our relationship with it; however, the last part is equally important. Her chapter on exercise is short but significant. In fact, I wanted to devote a whole post to it, because I echo her sentiments exactly. Exercise should be a natural part of life, not just something that happens in a gym. In fact, exercise was one reason I wanted to move to the country. I was the absolute opposite of a gym rat when we lived in the burbs. I loathed working out, although being "into" healthy habits, I thought I was obligated to work out daily. After all, getting enough exercise is just as important as eating right, isn't it?

I fell off the wagon -- or treadmill, or exercise bike -- so many times in my suburban life, it was a joke when I merely started to think about trying again. There were times in my life when I'd get out of bed early to do my half hour on the treadmill in my basement or bike half an hour to nowhere. I even belonged to a bona fide health club once. After reading Guiliano's book, I see that it was not the only club in the country to sell those enormous sweet muffins in the snack bar. Health club, indeed! Yes, I know my chocolate chip muffin recipe is decadent, but those muffins are not staring me in the face daily after I've just spent an hour torturing myself on exercise machines.

So, what's up with French women and exercise? They have the same attitude as I do. Life should provide exercise. That means taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking or biking instead of driving. One reason I moved to the country was to get "honest" exercise -- real exercise. Seven years ago, I couldn't carry a full 5-gallon water bucket or a 50-pound bag of goat grain. (Okay, I can't do that today because I injured my back, but that's another post.) There is no doubt I am more physically fit now than I was when we moved out here.

I also agree with Guiliano's idea that Americans are so caught up in the idea of saving time that they lose a lot of opportunities for natural exercise. Driving is quicker; elevators are faster. One of the books I read about farming talked about the importance of having your barns close to your house. The author talked about how much time you'd save -- or waste -- depending upon the distance between your house and your barn. Why do we view a few extra steps as wasted time instead of an opportunity? When you see how many modern farmers are overweight versus how many Amish are not overweight -- in spite of their rich diets -- it becomes pretty obvious who has the right idea.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

French Women Don't Get Fat

As I mentioned last month, I need to lose weight, because my knees are unhappy about carrying around this much weight. I was weighing over 160 most mornings. Now I'm averaging about four or five pounds less, and I'm not dieting. My oldest, Margaret, has an extensive collection of books on nutrition, and I noticed she had French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano.

Being in bed the last two days, I've had a chance to read most of it. My husband and I have also been reading Michael Pollan's latest book, In Defense of Food, and he repeatedly mentions the French Paradox -- how can the country with the world's best food and wine have so few people who are overweight? On this point, Guiliano and Pollan agree -- Americans have a bad attitude about food. We almost think of it as an enemy. Guiliano says French women never talk about "guilty pleasures." They enjoy food and they never feel guilty about it. They also don't stuff themselves with large servings. And they only eat the best food.

I already figured out most of this on my own, but it's nice to know that someone thinks I'm on the right track. I quit eating bad food about five years ago. Huh? Bad food? Yes, I quit eating at fast food restaurants and those buffets where they serve warmed-up, canned green beans and frozen foods that have merely been dumped into a deep fryer. I discovered exactly what Guiliano says -- I didn't feel satisfied after eating at those places, right down to the canned pudding for dessert.

I always thought that the French didn't drink water all, but apparently they don't drink tap water. It hadn't occurred to me that a lot of bottled waters started in France. So, Guiliano says to drink lots of water, including a glass of water first thing in the morning before your coffee, since caffeinne is a diuretic. It's easy to mistake dehydration for hunger, so if you drink enough, you'll eat less -- as long as you're eating to satisfy hunger.

Guiliano basicaly tells us to pay attention to our food and what we eat. She starts by telling the reader to write down everything you put in your mouth for three weeks. Then she has these suggestions:

  • Always sit down at a table to eat.
  • Don't eat while driving.
  • Use a smaller plate, so you don't feel the need to have a larger serving.
  • Have several small courses (soup, salad, entree, dessert) rather than one large course. It takes longer to eat, and variety is more satisfying.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables that are in season because they taste better.
  • Eat high-quality dark chocolate, rather than the super sweet milk chocolate that is more common.

In addition to advice about becoming friends with food, she also has some recipes that I'm looking forward to trying. I am most excited about the zucchini blossum omlette. I know a market grower who sells zucchini flowers to a chef in Chicago and always wondered what to do with them. I'll be sure to let everyone know how it goes when I try it this summer. Guiliano also provides recipes and encourages readers to make their own yogurt, fresh bread, and croissants!

The subtitle for the book is "The Secret of Eating for Pleasure," and she definitely delivers on that promise.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Boredom and goals

I'm bored! I don't think I've said that in 20 years, but then I can't recall a time in the last 20 years when I was stuck in bed, flat on my back, completely awake, and unable to move without moaning in pain.

Today was a gorgeous day! I went out this morning ready to do all the barn cleaning that I couldn't do when we had that gorgeous day last week, because our basement flooded. Today was my day! Or, at least it was supposed to be. It took an hour to get one of the goat pens in the kidding barn almost clean. The straw on the bottom was really heavy, because it was soaked with urine. Rather than taking it in small chunks, I was stabbing my pitchfork deeply into the bedding. It was heavy. I haven't mucked out a stall in a couple months because it's been so ridiculously cold here -- even below zero Fahrenheit on several days. We just throw more straw on top of the old stuff until we have a warm day when we can clean it all out.

Today was the day. I was about 90 percent done with the pen that holds the pregnant does. I stabbed a big hunk of wet straw, turned, tossed it into the wheel barrow, and turned back to get another fork full. Then I said, "Ouch! That hurt!" I paused. "I think I hurt my lower back." Mike suggested I go inside and start lunch while he and Katherine finish the mucking. I didn't think I was hurt that badly, but I didn't think it would be smart to aggravate it by continuing to work, so I headed inside.

By the time lunch was over, Mike had to help me stand up. I'd wince or moan or scream in pain if I moved the wrong way. It became obvious that bed was the only safe place for me. Knowing that NSAIDs will do nasty things to my stomach, but knowing that this is the worst injury I've had in a long time, I decided to take my chances with the pills. I also took a generic Zantac to help mitigate the effects. The last time I was in this much pain was just before my neck was diagnosed with arthritis.

So, I've been laying in bed for the past 10 hours. This was not how I'd planned to spend today. But I'm also happy that I'm living my dream. I look at my mother-in-law and remember what she used to say when she was our age. She wanted to do lots of traveling while she was able, and it's a good thing she did. They traveled all over the world. Although she is still quite able-bodied at 70-something, she is caring for her husband who has Alzheimers, which means she is effectively homebound herself. At least once a week, someone asks me how I juggle all my different projects -- teaching, goats, sheep, kids, writing, cooking, cheesemaking, soapmaking, etc. Today someone asked how I was going to add my new worms to my already busy schedule. Well, you just do it. When something is important enough, you figure out how to do it.

I've never had any confidence that my body was going to last a lifetime. I was born with birth defects in both knees, went through periods of inactivity, braces, splints, surgeries, and even a wheelchair. My orthpedic surgeon's parting words to me at age 15 were, "You'll probably have bone spurs in your knees by your 30s." Maybe that's why I've always felt an urgent need to get things done. In the beginning, I wanted to do all the things I couldn't do before my knees were fixed with surgery as a teenager. Then, I knew I had a deadline.

But everyone has a deadline -- and as my mama used to say, "Tomorrow never comes." She was right. Whenever I say I'll do something tomorrow, it just gets put off day after day. It's not until I decide that I'm doing something now that it actually gets done.

Since I started writing this post, I realized that I was not bored today. I was angry and frustrated. It reminded me of my past, and it represents a future that I fear. This is why I don't waste time watching television, which was my constant companion as a child. And it is why Auntie Mame's words have always resonated with me: "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death." Most people just don't see the banquet that's out there, but I do, and I want all of it. When I'm stuck in bed, unable to do anything, I'm starving for all the things I could be doing, and I hate it. I want to enjoy the banquet!

Monday, February 9, 2009

I'm a worm farmer!

Stuff rots, right? Yes, eventually compost happens, but I've been wanting to learn more about the "right" way to do it. We've had a compost bin and lots of compost piles ever since we moved out here, but we haven't made a lot of compost. Stuff takes years to rot if you just let nature take its course. For the past few years, I've received a flyer about a vermicomposting seminar held in the winter, but the timing has never worked out. This year, I was excited when I realized that I had no excuse to not attend. Not only did I attend five hours of instruction on composting, but I made my own worm bin, and I brought home worms!

Composting Symposium: Vermiculture and Beyond
was today in Springfield, IL. When I arrived, I was giddy with excitement. Really, it's kind of embarrassing to admit -- I mean, seriously, who'd be excited about worms? As it turned out, nearly 100 people from around Illinois were as excited as me (or almost as excited) about starting to vermicompost.

Over the past seven years, I've started raising all sorts of animals, but they've all been vertebrates, so this really is an adventure into a whole new world. Worms are not only invertebrates, but they're also hermaphrodites. As it turns out, they don't reproduce nearly as quickly as I'd expected. They lay a cocoon, which only holds two to seven baby worms.

My worm bin is made from a plastic bin that you buy at a discount store, and someone had drilled holes in it for air circulation. Then we taped landscaping fabric over the big holes, because the worms would crawl out if given the chance -- and then they'd die from dehydration because they wouldn't remember how to get back home. You need to have holes in the bin because worms need air circulation and although they need water, they can't have too much, so the bin should have drain holes on the bottom, which is why it sits on an upside-down lid. I also need to add some kind of legs, so the holes in the bottom can properly drain.

The worms were packed in wet newspaper with plenty of leaves to eat during transportation. Before picking them up, I filled my bin half full of shredded newspaper that I had to wet, which was more of a chore than it first appeared. We used spray bottles to wet the newspaper, and it took forever to get it wet enough. The package of worms was a little smaller than a football, which I placed in the middle of the wet newspaper for the two-hour ride home. After arriving home, I unwrapped the newspaper and let the little wigglers have some fresh air. I plunked them into the midst of their new home and gave them their first meal: coffee grounds, strawberry tops and onion scraps.

I only wish I'd started sooner, so that I could use the castings as I'm starting seeds this spring. A grad student from Ohio showed the results of his research that showed plants with 20% vermicompost grew faster and bigger than soil without vermicompost. Also, the plants have greater resistance to disease and insects. Even better news is that the vermicastings can go farther if you use them to make a compost tea, and it has the same benefits as using pure vermicastings. It's a win-win situation, and it's supposedly very low tech. One man said it was easier than having an ant farm, so we should be able to handle it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

One of those days

The forecast for today's weather was a high temperature of 59 degrees F. The good news is that it actually got well up into the 60s. The bad news is that we hardly took advantage of it the way we had planned. We had planned to clean out the barn. We wound up cleaning out the basement, because it flooded.

Mike has been putting up walls in the basement, and he unplugged the sump pump a week ago because he was going to put up the wall where the electrical box was located. He didn't get the wall up, and he didn't plug the sump back in. Those high temperatures meant lots of melting snow, which then flooded the basement.

Then there was this poor guy coming to pick up a goat. I gave him directions and said, "Go six or seven miles." He thought I said 57, so he went an hour past us! I felt terrible, but he seemed to handle it better than me. Maybe because his basement was not flooded, and he didn't have blood on his jeans and a goat with three kids that weren't looking great.

Yeah, Charlotte's kids are not gaining weight like they should be. They look downright skinny, and their bellies don't feel full. Her udder looks huge, but hardly any milk comes out. I checked her temperature to see if she had mastitis, but it was 102.4, which is normal. We've given the kids some extra milk, and we keep trying to milk Charlotte, but I'm not sure if we're making a lot of progress. The blood on my jeans was from crawling around in the straw trying to look under Charlotte and see if the kids are nursing correctly. One is definitely not doing a very good job. The other two seem more clued in. The blood wasn't mine; it was from Charlotte's birth. I didn't see it in the straw, but I certainly felt it when I sat in it. Cold!

When doing chores this afternoon and when walking Joy half an hour ago, I heard the sheep making lots of noise. They were certainly not "quiet as a lamb." Mike went out there this afternoon to find a ram lamb with his head stuck in the fence. I had discovered one stuck in the fence yesterday. Then tonight when I heard a lamb screaming, I came back into the house and said, "Who wants to go save a lamb?" Katherine volunteered. We've never had this problem before. I think it might be because I wethered them between one and two months of age, so their horns are small enough that they can stick their head through the fence, but then they hook the fence when trying to pull their heads back out again. My only question is, why are they doing this all of a sudden!

I am very happy to see this day end and hoping tomorrow will be better!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Triplet doelings -- FINALLY!

As I was getting ready to leave the house and go teach, Katherine came inside and said that Charlotte had a long string of mucous hanging out. I asked her what she was doing in the house, and she said she was hungry. I reminded her of how quickly Charlotte gave birth last year, and after a few minutes, reminded her again and told her to get back out there.

When she arrived, she saw a bubble sticking out of Charlotte's back end. She took a bite of her salad and put it in the office. As she stepped back into the barn, she saw a kid's head. Then she ran to Charlotte's pen with towels in hand as the kid came sliding out onto the straw. Dressed for school except for my barn boots, I went out there, camera in hand, hoping to see a baby or two before I had to leave in 25 minutes. Katherine was drying the first baby, who was big and healthy -- and a girl! She was trying to stand within a few minutes, and within 10 minutes of birth, she was looking for her first meal. In fact, she was nursing as Charlotte started pushing out the second kid. You can see her in this photo. She's the black and white blurry blob under Charlotte.

Speaking of the second kid -- she wanted nothing to do with this cold, cruel world. It was 20 degrees F here. Charlotte pushed out one hoof and then a second. Then the kid pulled the first hoof back inside! No, this was not your typical regression that can happen between pushes. The hoof was very quickly yanked back inside. Charlotte pushed again, and the same thing happened. "Grab the hoof next time Charlotte pushes it out," I told Katherine. She did -- and then gasped as the hoof disappeared again! "He yanked it out of my hand!" she said indignantly. (Don't you love the way we assumed it was going to be a boy.)

Charlotte finally decided she'd had enough of that nonsense and pushed like a goat possessed, which delivered the little doeling before she had a chance to hatch a new plan to stay in there where it was nice and warm.

Then things got weird. Usually when you see a cord hanging out of the goat, that means they're done with babies, and the placenta will be next. There was a cord hanging out, but about four minutes later, Charlotte put her ears back, screamed, and pushed hard -- much harder than a goat pushes for a placenta. Goat placentas are not a nice neat package like human placentas. They looks like a huge sheet of red plastic wrap with dark red disks all over them. Were we seeing part of the placenta? If the goat delivers the placenta, and there is still a kid inside, it will die because its lifeline has been cut. As Katherine and I discussed this, Charlotte pushed again, and something black emerged.

"What is it?" Katherine gasped. Please don't let it be a dead goat or a mummified fetus, just now as I have to leave, I thought. I reminded myself to be happy about the two healthy does that were already struggling to stand and walk. Katherine inhaled loudly and said, "It's a butt. It's a breech!" Charlotte pushed again, and the kid was born. It was covered with a thick membrane that looked more like a placenta than an amniotic sac. "Look at this," Katherine said, as she pulled the membrane off the kid and started drying it with a towel. It made gurgling noises and held its mouth open all the time. The pink of its tongue contrasted starkly with the black of its coat. It sounded like it was gasping for air. I wished I had a clean bulb syringe and cursed myself for not disinfecting it after the last time I used it.

It was 12:30 now, time for me to leave. Katherine knows what she's doing, I told myself. She'll get that little girl going. And she did. All three doelings were running around, nursing, and acting like kids when I got home from work.

Now we just have to name them! Charlotte's full name is Charlotte Bronte, and she had a single buck last year, so no girl names have been taken yet. Any suggestions for three girl names related to Charlotte Bronte? By the way, Anne Bronte will be kidding next week. (Emily Bronte lives in Tennessee, in case you're wondering.)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Waiting for Charlotte

Last night, I slept in the barn with the goats. I was in the office, but it wasn't that comfortable. When it's getting close to 0 degrees F, that little heater doesn't do a great job of warming up the office. Then, I realized that Bogie is obviously reaching sexual maturity, because he kept trying to mate Sam, which she did not appreciate at all. Since they were strays, I don't really know how old they are, but it looks like it's time to get them fixed before she comes into heat.

Yesterday morning, Margaret thought Charlotte's ligaments were gone on one side. Katherine agreed, and she went out there frequently during the day while I was teaching. I arrived home last night and decided to stay out there since it was supposed to be 5 degrees F, and Charlotte is now at day 149. Nigerians don't usually go past 151 days, so she has to be getting close.

Charlotte is also Sherri's daughter, and like Sherri and her other daughters, Charlotte's labor last year was quick and quiet up until she was about to actually give birth. We got lucky last year, although it was June, so the baby probably would have been okay if we hadn't been there. A couple was here buying goats, and as I was leaving the barn to send them on their way home, I heard Charlotte scream. As soon as they were gone, I got Katherine, and Charlotte kidded within 10 minutes after we got there. So, you can see why I don't want to leave her alone for very long.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Walking in a winter wonderland

When walking through the woods, I found a few interesting things. Although the creek is frozen over in most places, water is still running beneath the ice. It's interesting that the ice is broken at most of the crossings. That makes it very inconvenient and difficult for us to try to get across, since the creek banks are six to ten feet deep in the places that have not been forded.

Joy and I also founds the remains of a deer. It wasn't that far from the sheep, so I'm glad to know that the llamas have been doing their job keeping the coyotes out of the sheep pasture.

And speaking of the llamas, they were very interested in meeting Joy. This was the first time I've ever taken her out there. She usually doesn't want to walk in that direction for some reason known only to her, but once I got her out there, she loved all the strange new smells and unusual animals she met. The sheep and llamas seemed very intrigued by her too.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Rooing or what?

About a month ago, I noticed Charlie was losing the wool on his neck. This happened last year in May. At the time, I thought it was because the sheep shearer hadn't been here yet, and it was getting hot. Well, it certainly is not hot now! We've been having single digit temperatures, and he continues to lose more wool. Now he's lost this wool on his shoulder blade? Any of my Shetland-breeder blogpals know what this is? Is it just rooing or what?

I'm glad I haven't registered him yet. He'll be two this summer, and I almost registered him last year, but I didn't like the looks of his horns and decided to wait and see what they did. If this is a rooing thing, it is definitely not something I want to pass on to future generations, so castrating seems like the best idea. In fact, although the horns are not life-threatening, I know we can do better, so he'll be saying bye-bye to the family jewels pretty soon.

Speaking of castration, I'm happy to report that the Burdizzo worked on all the lambs and goats I used it on last year. It is definitely now my preferred method of castration.


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