Thursday, April 30, 2009

Here we go again

The coyotes are back. A goose was sitting on a nest next to our house, and she's gone. Her 18 eggs have been completely chilled, so the little goslings-to-be have perished. Jonathan found her head, neck, and a few feathers and bones in the woods, several hundred feet from the house. It had to be a coyote, as a raccoon couldn't carry a goose that far. Well, it doesn't have to be a coyote, but I'd prefer that to a wolf or mountain lion.

This was our last purebred female buff goose. We have three buff ganders, but they can't do much on their own. The rest of the geese are either embdens or crosses. This is terribly disappointing, since the guard dog has been sleeping on the front porch most nights. The llamas are in the pastures with the sheep and goats.

I started to get upset with us, thinking the attack could have been prevented if we'd finished that fence around the pond last fall, but last week, Katherine saw two coyotes across the road jump a fence with the ease of a deer. We will finish the fence, of course, but I am starting to think that I will just have to accept coyote losses as a normal part of life out here. Resignation is not my strong suit.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Llama shearing day

I don't know when I thought I was going to have time to make more soap today. It was on my to-do list, along with a few other things. We spent the morning catching the llamas and getting them ready for their spa day. Somehow they didn't seem to enjoy it as much as I enjoy getting a pedicure and a haircut. In fact, Merlin made a growling noise the whole time, and he was spitting a lot. Sterling was the calmest of the four boys. Since Kim and John, their previous owners, were the shearers, they knew what to expect. In fact, they told us not to get in front of Merlin because he spits while being sheared. That was really valuable information, as being spat upon by a llama is not terribly pleasant. We made sure to stand far behind him, although he was trying to turn his head enough to get us. We finally got the boys done and had lunch around 3:30 or 4:00. Kim and John left at 4:30, and then we had so many things to do around here that we didn't get into the house for dinner until sundown. This is a picture of Tuscany being sheared. Tomorrow is a big day for him, as he is going to be gelded.

I wish I could go straight to bed, but I have more work to do.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Busy week and random thoughts

I can't believe I haven't posted anything in a week. Bad blogger! In my defense, I have been very busy. Isn't that ironic -- I don't have time to write when I have tons of things to write about!

All of the lambs are doing great. The day after my last post, another ewe lambed. She had two white rams. Since we can't really support more than about 20 sheep year-round, my husband is getting excited about all the lamb in the freezer next year. Did I mention we served leg of lamb for Easter? It was a huge hit. We used this recipe. We will definitely be doing it again!

Yesterday, I took Cicada the goat (yes, she's named after a bug) to the vet. She's been limping and not putting any weight on her right, front leg, so I was thinking it's probably broken. The x-ray looked completely normal, so $90 later, we left the vet with a bottle of anti-inflammatory meds to keep her comfortable while whatever soft tissue injury heals.

While sitting in the office, I overheard the receptionist tell someone on the phone that the cost to spay a cat is $250. The person immediately hung up. No wonder people don't get animals spayed. Is that standard? My little country vet is charging $95 to spay Sam the barn cat, which seems reasonable. A few months ago I found a site that showed the median income for people in various towns, and I was surprised to learn that it's about $15-20K in the towns around here. So, spaying a cat would be 1-2% of their annual income.

So, this reminded me of the c-section article I read a couple months ago where the people took their goat to the vet and were told that it would be $800 for a c-section. Before leaving, I asked what a c-section would cost, and they said $400. So, if a goat ever needs a c-section, I am definitely taking it to U of I. They said between $150 and $250.

Tomorrow, Sam the barn cat will be spayed. She had her kittens earlier this month, but she was obviously so freaked out by the whole experience that she had no idea what to do. She gave birth in the middle of the night when no one was out there, and she got blood all over the barn office. It looks like she kept moving from one place to another, even after she started having kittens. Although their noses looked clean, they were not at all fluffy, so she didn't clean them off. The unfinished wood floor is obviously stained for life. I'm not sure about the futon, but at least it can be covered. She did eventually figure out what the box was for and had the last two kittens in there.

Today, we're going to do some barn cleaning. The cheesemaking class Saturday morning starts out in the barn, so it needs to look somewhat presentable -- as presentable as a barn can ever look when animals live in it. I just love those barn brochures we get in the mail where they have a picture of a brand new barn, sparkling clean, with a single happy horse looking at you. I hope no one is expecting that when they come here!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

First lambs of 2009

As I was driving home from teaching today, I saw the llamas sniffing something on the ground. It was a little white lamb! I started screaming, "A lamb! A lamb! We have a lamb!" I pulled into the driveway, my fatigue was instantly gone, and I ran into the house screaming, "We have a lamb!" There was no one to be found, so I ran upstairs and changed into farm clothes. I saw Katherine outside the window and yelled the good news to her. She took off in the direction of the sheep pasture.

As soon as I finished changing clothes, I grabbed the camera and ran out there. When Katherine saw me getting close, she yelled that two ewes had lambed. Cheyenne, a black and white spotted ewe had given birth to a brown and white spotted ram and a brown ram. It obviously happened quite recently as she still had her placenta hanging on. The other ewe is white, and the ear tag is #15, but we're not sure who that is. She had a white ewe lamb and a brown ewe lamb. The little white one is having great difficulty keeping up with her mama, and her mama is not helping much.

Most mamas respond better than this one. If they hear their baby screaming, they go to it. This one is almost oblivious. Several sheep are more concerned for this little lamb than her own mother. Majik checked her out at least four or five times while we were there. The little ewe would scream, and Majik would come running, sniff her all over and then walk away. The little ewe has tried to nurse off several sheep, including wethers, who are not too happy about her sniffing around under their bellies. We picked her up several times and tried to put her closer to her mama, but mama just runs away from us, so we're not able to help. Her mother is in the background here, and it's one of the few times she actually paid attention to the little ewe.

Now I realize what I heard last night. I thought the little black wether had his head stuck in the fence again, because I kept hearing a high-pitched bleat coming from the sheep pasture as I was heading into the house last night after chores. Jonathan had taken care of the sheep and hadn't seen anything. I sent him out there in the dark to get the 8-month-old wether unstuck from the fence, but when he returned, he said that the wether must have freed himself. Now I realize it was probably this little girl's screaming that I heard. Katherine and I have been debating the merits of bringing her inside to bottle-feed her. She seems to have a full tummy, but we never saw her nurse, and her mother is never near her. The moment the little ewe gets close, the dam takes off again. It actually took a few minutes to figure out who her mother was, since she was all alone and no one was paying much attention to her other than the llamas and Majik.

At least we know these babies are from Willie Wonka, who came from Nancy Larson's flock dispersal last fall. I wanted more brown babies, and he has certainly delivered!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Scandal's triplets

Today a family from Chicago visited us because they'd like to help around the farm this summer, and they wanted to get a better idea of what it's really like on a farm. When I took them out to the barn, Scandal's udder practically smacked me in the eyeballs. A pregnant doe only gets an udder like that when she's about to have kids.

Mike had just asked me yesterday if we had a clean pen for her. Uh, no, but she's only at day 145 on Monday, so we've probably got a couple of days. Yeah, right! I came into the house and asked Jonathan to clean out a kidding pen while I finished up the visit with our guests. Then I went out and checked on her after they were gone. We checked on her at least hourly all afternoon, and around 4:30, I decided to stay in the office with a novel.

Every now and then I'd hear Scandal make a little sound, but I'd look out the window and see her staring at me, so I figured she just wanted me to come out there and sit with her. When I did sit with her, she was completely quiet. So, I stayed in the warm office and kept reading. It was 39 degrees F today and raining, which created an icky wet-cold atmosphere, even if you were inside.

I was reading in the office when I heard three screams in rapid succession. I didn't even need to look at her to know what was happening. I pulled on my coat and ran to her. As soon as I saw her, I noticed something black under her tail. I thanked her for her efficiency as I walked into the pen. I sat down in the straw and wiped off the kid's nose, and a moment later, the rest of the body was born. It was a doe! The heat lamp in that pen wasn't working, so I ran to the neighboring pen to take their lamp.

About 10 minutes later, a second doe was born. This one was very tiny, probably two pounds or less, but she seemed healthy. Then about 20 minutes later, just when I was starting to worry, a third kid was born -- a buck! By then, the first kid was standing and ready to nurse.

They've all nursed now and are wobbling around the pen getting used to their legs. The little buck is in the bottom picture, and he keeps holding his ear straight back instead of up. He reminds me of those pictures of Mercury in mythology. Clearly, the muscles in his ears work. He just isn't using them correctly yet.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Communication internship available

Thanks to blogpal Jon for suggesting an intern. I had thought about it, but pushed the idea aside until he mentioned it. I also want to explore the possibility of gardening and animal husbandry internships, but it's going to take more time to write up those descriptions. If you know any college students looking for a summer internship in communication, please pass this along.

For the student interested in environmental journalism or public relations, this is an internship off the beaten path. We have an old-fashioned, 32-acre homestead in central Illinois where we grow our own food organically. We also sell goat milk soap, wool, llama roving, yarn, and animals for breeding, milk, or meat. We maintain three websites that are in need of updating, because the farm is shifting its focus from sales to education. To learn more about our communication needs (and us), visit: (needs complete redesign, new copy, new photos) (needs complete redesign, new copy, new photos, possibly re-integrate into (needs new copy and photos, some design work)

The perfect intern will:
  • Have completed at least two classes in media writing, PR, or journalism
  • Have a working knowledge of HTML, CSS, Adobe Illustrator, and PhotoShop
  • Be interested in organic living and sustainability
  • Be capable of working independently

What will you be doing?
If you don’t have a broad knowledge of sustainability, you might start by reading a couple of books and viewing some documentaries that we have available. By the end of the internship, you will have a good understanding of locavores, the green movement, sustainability, and organic foods. As stated above, you will be redesigning two websites, taking photographs, and writing copy, which you can add to your portfolio. You may also be helping with our online presence via search engine optimization, our blog,, Twitter posts, and our store on

Most of the internship can be completed via a Cybercommute, although the intern will need to spend several days on the farm initially to take notes and photographs. The internship is unpaid; however, there is a travel stipend available. A private bedroom and three homemade meals a day are provided while on the farm.

To apply, send an email to Deborah at antiquityoaks dot com with answers to the following questions:

Permanent address:
Courses taken in media writing, PR, or journalism:
Writing sample: Imagine you have been accepted for this internship. Write a press release for your local newspaper about why you applied for the position, what you are looking forward to learning, and anything else you think is important.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Full-time homesteading?

This college teaching thing is really putting a cramp in my ability to do things around the homestead. A goat died last week, and I've no doubt it was parasites. We haven't checked the does in a couple months. I did finally give copper boluses to all the bucks last week. I think Draco was really deficient because he grabbed the bolus, chewed it up, and swallowed it. That is not normal. A copper bolus is just tiny little bits of copper -- no sugar or flavors or anything that would make it appetizing. He kept trying to get the other boluses that I was giving to the other bucks. He was losing hair on the bridge of his nose, which was what clued me in to the fact that he was deficient. I am thinking he should probably get another one in a month.

Now that all my children are attending the local junior college, and I'm teaching three classes, there is less time than ever to do the things that need to get done on the homestead. I am very happy that we haven't missed any goat births, but we are definitely not utilizing everything around here to its fullest potential. Margaret is only milking the goats about half the time, so we could be getting twice as much milk. The kids are old enough that we could be separating them from their mamas every night. Soon, when the kids start getting sold, we will have to milk the does twice a day.

People sometimes send me emails and ask if it's possible to do this while working full time. In the past, I've always said that you could have chickens and perhaps a few goats or sheep if you work full-time, but you could not do everything we do and work full-time. I know people who work full-time and have sheep or goats, and they do occasionally lose a lamb or a kid that's born when they're not there at the birth. I've been thinking about how I will change things next year when Margaret is at the University of Illinois, then when Jonathan leaves, and finally, when Katherine is gone.

I admit I've been wanting to have my cake and eat it too. I want all the benefits of a self-sustaining homestead, as well as the extra money that I get from teaching. I am starting to realize that that is a lot harder than I had originally anticipated. Any working mom knows how hard it is to have a career and little ones. I don't know why it never occurred to me sooner that this is no different. This might be even harder. Instead of a couple of children, I have dozens of lives that depend upon us. Instead of just having a house, I have two barns, a chicken house, and 32 acres that need care and attention.

It's pretty obvious where my heart is. I moan and grumble about unmotivated students. I procrastinate when it comes to grading. When I go out into the pasture, I lose track of time as I watch the goats play and see one thing after another than needs to be done -- things I want to do. Over spring break, I completely forgot about the classes I was teaching, but when I drive off every day to teach my classes, I keep thinking about the animals and hoping that everything will be fine until I get home again.

Seems pretty obvious what I should be doing. Why is it so hard to make that full-time commitment to the homestead?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Tree update -- finally

Sorry it's taken me so long to let you know what happened to the burning tree. It burned all night long, and Jonathan stayed with it to make sure it didn't spread to surrounding grass. At 1:10 a.m., he came into the house to tell us that the top part had fallen off. The tree was already mostly dead when the fire started. A couple years ago, about 3/4 of the top of it fell off during a storm. The inside is hollow, and I've been saying for two years that it should be cut down, because nothing good was going to come of a half-dead tree that was next to our garden. I was mostly afraid that another storm would blow down the rest of it, and it would destroy our nice new fence. The next morning there was still smoke coming off the tree, and you could see a few embers, but we were no longer worried about it spreading. This is what's left now. And we really need to get it cut down before it causes more trouble.

Unfortunately, a dead tree just hanging around does not tend to make it to the top of the to-do list. We still have fencing to complete, garden work to do, more barn cleaning, goat and sheep health maintenance, and the list goes on and on.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hot compost works!

We finally got the chance to use some of the information I learned at the composting seminar a couple months ago. During spring break, we cleaned out the goat stalls and made this long pile of compost. It's two to three feet high and three or four feet wide. It's probably 20 feet long, but I didn't measure it. In the past we've just piled stuff up and forgotten about it for a couple of years, or we've spread it thinly in the garden. You can put fresh manure in your garden as long as it's three months before harvest of above-ground plants or four months before harvest of root vegetables. Piling up barn waste and forgetting about it is cold composting, and the finished product looks like soil. The problem with using fresh barn waste as mulch and fertilizer in the garden is that undigested weed seeds are basically sitting there in little fertilizer pellets, and they sprout!

Last year, we fenced in about twice as much land as we actually gardened, and our idea was to put barn waste on the grass, which would kill it, and then it would be ready to go this spring. Well, last summer and fall, that area sprouted a great crop of thistle! Goats love thistle, and apparently a lot of the seeds survive their digestion process.

Hot composting, by contrast, heats up the pile, which kills weed seeds and bad bacteria. We were worried the first couple days because it stunk. For the first time in seven years, it really stunk out here. The wind was coming from the northwest, and the pile just happened to be northwest of our house. Every time we went outside, we were assaulted by the stench. If a compost pile stinks, it means it's not heating up. We read what we could find on the Internet and were thinking that the pile needed grass. If that were true, we would be in big trouble, because no one around here would be cutting grass for a few more weeks. Then on the third day, the smell was gone. Mike checked the temperature in the pile, and it was 130 degrees. Perfect! We'd done it!

Now we just need to flip the pile over, so that the stuff on the top and sides can be in the middle, where it can heat up, and the weeds seeds in there can get killed, as well as the bad bacteria. Then, in a week or two, it will be ready for the garden. When making hot compost, it will not look like soil when you're done. It won't appear much different than when you piled it up, but it is "composted" and no longer considered fresh manure, so it will work in the garden as a fertilizer and mulch.


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