Sunday, March 29, 2009

Another goal in progress

Cows were one of our first purchases when we moved out to the country. Being a complete greenhorn when it came to cattle, I was ill-prepared for the two wild heifers we brought home. We had more than one heart-stopping moment with them, but the worst was the day that I thought my son was dead. That's a story for another day though, because today I'm excited that I've just agreed to buy two lovely, friendly heifers from Five Ponds Farm in Missouri. Just look at this picture of Molly giving Marian a kiss. This is the kind of cow I want!

Bridget is Molly's little playmate, and we thought she'd be happier if the two of them were able to stay together, so we'll be bringing home both of them in early May. I wish we could do it sooner, but we're busy every single weekend in April, and it's a long drive to south-central Missouri.

As much as we love making our own cheese and dairy products, we love experiencing the different tastes of cow milk and goat milk and appreciate the character they each add to different foods. We've even milked our sheep a couple times and made yogurt with their milk. Although my first experience with cows was not positive, I haven't been able to give up on the dream of having a couple milk cows. Looks like it's finally going to happen.

Many thanks to Marian at Five Ponds Farm for all the photos you sent over the past couple days and all the questions you answered!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Vegetables sprouting

Only two weeks ago, I finally got around to starting seeds for the vegetable garden. I didn't write a post at that time, because there was nothing to see other than dirt in pots, which is not very exciting. I am excited now! I planted an entire flat of broccoli, which sprouted a few days ago, then brussel sprouts, basil, leeks, and Amish paste tomatoes. Now all seven varieties of tomatoes have sprouted. We're still waiting on the eggplant, watermelon, parsley, jalapenos, and most of the other peppers.

Next comes the hardest part of gardening -- for me, at least. You have to thin the seedlings. They're all so pretty and green, but if you don't take a pair of scissors and start snipping, none of the plants will grow very well. We have learned this the hard way. (Don't we learn everything the hard way?) I might cheat a little here and there and leave two seedlings per pot, but they usually don't grow as big as the plants that don't have to share their space.

Friday, March 27, 2009

First blooms of the season

As I mentioned in January, I started forcing bulbs a few years ago, and now I have a garden in my living room. My first bloom appeared last week. I didn't get around to potting the daffodil bulbs as early as I should have this year, but my living room garden is still blooming before the yard. We'll have blooming daffodils outside by early April.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ducks on the pond

When we first moved out here, the pond was dead except for frogs. There were no fish, and as a result, we received very few visits from wild birds. I guess we're doing something right, since we're getting a lot of visits from wild birds now. It looks like wood ducks have taken up residence somewhere close, because they visit the pond daily. And I often see them fly over to the creek or roost in the trees around the pond. Maybe we'll see some babies this year? I can always hope! This picture shows three males on the left side and two females on the right.

Today we had a visit from a female bufflehead, which is a duck, according to our Birds of Illinois book. She was apparently diving for invertebrates in our pond. I guess she liked what she was getting because she stuck around for a good portion of the day. She won't be around long though, because they only migrate through our area during the spring and fall. Maybe she'll stop by again on her way south in six months?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Breakfast during egg season

When we have lots of eggs, one of our favorite breakfasts is French toast. It is especially good when using thick slices of homemade whole grain breads like whole wheat with rolled oats or multi-grains added. This means I start planning French toast a day ahead of time. Whenever I make fresh bread, a loaf is devoured at the dinner table. If I'm planning French toast for breakfast the next day, I just make two loaves -- and hide one.

Cut inch-thick slices of bread, then dip in the batter:
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
t. vanilla or splash of Kahlua (alcohol evaporates during cooking)

This amount of batter is good for four to six slices, depending on how much you let them absorb. I put the bread in the batter, then immediately flip it over to coat the other side, then lift it out and place it on a hot griddle or skillet over a low heat. If you cook it on too high a heat, it will stick, and the outside will burn before the inside has a chance to cook.

We prefer to serve French toast with maple syrup and some kind of sausage -- our homemade turkey or pork sausage or store-bought vegetarian sausage for my daughters. This is so hearty, especially when made with the whole grain bread that most people only eat one or two slices.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


When you wake up in the morning on a farm, you just never know what kind of adventure you're going to have. The title for this blog post changed so many times I've lost count. First, it was just going to be, "A Day in the Garden," about pulling out dead plants and starting our first seeds of the season (spinach, onions, etc). Then it became, "Not My Best Idea" when I got the bright idea to burn the grass and dead plants in the garden, and the fire got out of control briefly. Then the new title was, "Not Such a Bad Idea" when we got the fire under control and patted ourselves on the back for deciding to burn everything.

We went back to work planting, and about 20 minutes later Mike asked, "What's that noise?" Jonathan and I didn't hear anything, but Mike was insistent. Then he pointed to the big old, dead, hollow oak tree next to the garden and said, "That's it." We looked over there and saw flames shooting out the holes where there used to be limbs. We paniced and ran around getting buckets of water until we realized that there was nothing we could do. The tree is easily 20 feet high and five feet in diameter. Then we calmed down, and I ran into the house to get a camera.

After snapping a few pictures, I saw a tractor coming down the road with our hay. Great timing! The hay guys just stared at the tree. As one took the hay to the sheep, I said to the other, "It wasn't on purpose. We were just burning grass, and we didn't realize the fire went into the middle of that tree. It's hollow." He just nodded. Finally he said, "You'll probably be here all night watching it."

Since the only fire I've ever seen is on television, I was expecting the tree to come crashing down within minutes of discovering the fire, but that's not happening. I'm afraid the hay guys are right. Margaret and Katherine were in town, so we called them and asked them to bring home sub sandwiches, since no one has the time or inclination to cook right now. It's going to be a long night.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

More classes added

In response to a number of requests, I've added a couple class times, so here is the schedule for April and May:

April 11
10 a.m. -- Soapmaking

April 25
9 a.m. -- Morning in the Life of a Dairymaid (cheesemaking)
1 p.m. -- Soapmaking

Sunday, May 31
2 p.m. -- Morning in the Life of a Dairymaid (cheesemaking)

The addition of the soapmaking class on April 25 is in response to people who wanted to take both classes. If you only want to take one of the classes on April 25, that's fine too. We'll have a potluck picnic lunch between the two classes for those people taking both classes. If you're only taking one class, you can come early or stay late if you'd like to join us for the lunch.

Once you decide to sign up for the class you can mail a check to Antiquity Oaks, P. O. Box 181, Cornell, IL 61319 or send payment via Paypal to deborah at antiquity oaks dot com. (Yes, that's an email address, which I wrote out in a probably-futile attempt to hide from spammers.) The soapmaking class is $24; cheesemaking is $15; and there's a discount if you take both classes at $35.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Classes scheduled on the farm

If you're anywhere near us in Illinois (or want a vacation), I've scheduled a couple of classes in April. I've been making cheese and soap for seven years, and although I've made a lot of mistakes, I do have a bit of wisdom to share. I certainly don't know it all, and every batch of cheese teaches me something new, but I figured that novices might find these classes helpful. I regularly get emails from people who are interested in becoming self sufficient or learning certain skills, so I'm also planning on starting classes in goat breeding, chicken keeping, and canning. I still need to get the details crystallized on those classes, but for now, these two classes are available. I've been teaching soapmaking and cheesemaking for several years already. I just never thought about mentioning them on my blog. And I'm still thinking about the idea of a homesteading internship.

Soapmaking Class
We'll have a soapmaking class at Antiquity Oaks from 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, April 11. You'll learn the history of soapmaking, how modern soapmaking is different, and how to create your own soap recipes. Each participant will receive handouts, including a list of references for future use, and you'll go home with a small loaf of soap (retail value $28) that you can slice a day or two later after saponification is complete. Fee: $24 per person, and reservations are required. Class is limited to four people, so everyone will receive personalized, hands-on instruction.

Morning in the Life of a Dairymaid (Cheesemaking)
Saturday, April 25, we'll start in the barn at 9 a.m. with instructions in goat milking, and we'll talk about how it's different than milking a cow or a sheep (and how their milk is different). Then we'll head into the kitchen to talk about the history of dairy in this country and demonstrate how to make a variety of dairy products, such as cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, and ice cream. Fee: $15 per person, and reservations are required. Class is limited to six people, so there will be ample opportunity for discussion.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Desserts during egg season

We're getting upwards of two dozen eggs a day now, which means it's time to pull out those recipes that use lots of eggs. Yesterday, I mentioned on Facebook that I was making creme brulee pie, and there were several requests for the recipe. Like many of my recipes, this one came about as a result of serendipity. I was going to make a coconut custard pie, and I had everything mixed together. I just needed to add the coconut, but I couldn't find any. So, I was stuck with a custard pie, which I didn't think anyone in my family would eat, other than my husband. I started thinking about what was in the pie already. What was similar? What would my kids eat? And creme brulee pie was born!

Creme Brulee Pie

Butter a 10-inch, deep-dish pie pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Put the following ingredients into a blender and blend on low for about 30 seconds or until all ingedients look well mixed:

2 cups goat milk (can substitute whole milk from the store)
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 t. vanilla
4 eggs

Pour into pie pan. Sprinkle with nutmeg, and gently sprinkle with turbinado sugar. The turbinado sugar will stay crunchy on top of the pie through the baking process and mimics the flame-kissed top of creme brulee. The batter will be quite runny, so take care when placing in the oven. Bake for 40 minutes. A sharp knife inserted into the center of the pie should come out clean, and the sliced area should stay open and not look watery inside.

Note: If you use store-bought eggs, your pie won't be this yellow. The yolks of our chicken eggs are school-bus yellow, because they free range.

For more recipes, check out Hearth and Soul.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Soap making, barn cleaning, and kittens coming!

What a day! We were only able to make three batches of soap, because I didn't have enough goat milk frozen. So, we must freeze more milk, so we can make more soap. I haven't made soap without goat milk in six years. Once you put milk in your soap, you just can't make soap without milk. Since using my own goat milk soap, I haven't needed lotion except in the dead of winter, because my skin is not all dried out like it was when I was using commercial soap.

I spent much of today in the kitchen. We had pasta for lunch along with homemade crackers and soft garlic pretzels. For dinner, I made a couple loaves of honey-wheat bread, and Katherine made two quiches. It's egg season again! Jonathan found two dozen eggs today, so it's time to pull out the recipes that use lots of egg. Katherine made pound cake yesterday, which actually uses more eggs than a quiche.

Mike and Jonathan worked on cleaning out more barn stalls today. I need to get a picture of the compost pile. It's huge! Hope this hot composting works! We'll have tons (literally) of black gold.

And finally, yesterday Margaret said to me that she thought Sam the barn cat was pregnant. Yes, I agree. Having never intended to breed cats, I obviously did not educate myself enough on the reproductive system of felines. On Feb. 4, I blogged about how I thought Bogie was reaching sexual maturity because he was trying to mate Sam. Well, in retrospect, I realize that Sam was in heat! I thought that when cats were in heat, they made a lot of noise. I never heard Sam make a single meow. She was (and still is) so tiny, I didn't think she was old enough to be a mama. Being a stray, I didn't know how old she was. So, today I did a lot of web research on cat pregnancy and birth.

Sam and Bogie still live in the small barn office, and today I gave her a box with a towel in it for her nest. The web articles all agreed on the importance of a nest for a mama cat. And we're providing her with unlimited high-quality food so she can feed herself and her babies. Supposedly they need twice as much food at the end of pregnancy. From what I read, I shouldn't worry too much about her being young. One article even said that problems are more likely to occur in a cat closer to two that's never been bred before. So, if indeed she was in heat on Feb. 4, she should have her babies somewhere between April 5 and 10. I guess all we can do now is wait . . . and plan to get her spayed when her babies are a couple months old.

Patches arrived on our farm five years ago, small and pregnant, and she was a perfectly wonderful mama. We had no idea when her babies were due. One day she came to the barn to eat and was quite thin, so the girls followed her to a hollow tree where she'd had her babies. They tried to move the babies to the barn, but Patches thought the tree was a much better home. One by one, she carried them all back to the hollow tree. When they were a couple weeks old, she then decided they should live in the barn, and one by one, she brought them to the barn.

At least we have some idea when Sam is due, and she will give birth in the barn office, which is much safer than a hollow tree where they could get eaten by raccoons or a coyote.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Barn cleaning and composting

I thought today would be a barn-cleaning day, but it wound up being a composting day, as well. That should have been obvious, since the stalls were a very big part of what needed to be cleaned. Normally, we just dump the straw and poop under fruit trees or in the garden, but we decided to try hot composting this time, so we are making a very long pile. It will need to be turned every day or two, and with a little luck, nature will take its course, and the pile will heat up to 150 degrees to kill the bad bacteria in the poop, as well as any seeds in there -- and voila, we'll have compost in a few weeks!

We still have a lot to do. We finished about 25% of the stalls. In the summer, when we clean stalls weekly, it only takes about 15 minutes to clean one. In the winter, however, we can't push the wheelbarrow through the snow, so we wind up just putting clean straw on top of the dirty straw, and after a few months, it's a big, heavy mess that takes a couple hours to clean.

Mike and I also worked on cleaning the pump room in the smaller barn. It's attached to the office, where I spent several nights this winter waiting for goats to kid. There is a stove in there, so we have everything we need to use it as a soap-making kitchen, which is what we'll be doing tomorrow. Late this afternoon, we cleaned it up and got it organized.

Just like yesterday, I'm exhausted, but I love it. I'm getting sun. I'm getting exercise. And I'm feeling more energized than I have in months! No doubt the weather has something to do with it. It was in the low 60s today, and tomorrow's forecast is for the upper 60s! So, we'll have more barn cleaning and will get started with the soap making.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Porter's first herding class

Porter is passed out on the living room floor, and I'm about ready to collapse into bed. He had his first herding class today. It was my first class too. I honestly expected him to drag me around the round pen as he wildly chased after the sheep. Before we even went into the pen, the instructor said that some dogs are so excited about the sheep that they have to actually work from outside the pen in the beginning. I thought for sure that would be Porter! I was pleasantly surprised when he was calm. In fact, he even took his eyes off the sheep sometimes, which shocked me.

The instructor said he has good "stock sense" and that he will be a good teacher for me. She also said that he is very sensitive to me, and I don't need to have a very heavy hand with the lead. She had a lot of other compliments for him, but my exhausted brain has forgotten most of them. When you first start herding, the dog is on leash, which means the handler has to do just as much as the dog. I did not realize this before today. I'm thinking that either I will lose a lot of weight training Porter -- or that maybe Mike should be his herding trainer, since he likes to run.

I found it interesting that the other dogs were there for fun, which was a bit intimidating at first. Some of those other dogs have a lot of formal experience in obedience and agility. Porter was the only working dog, so at first I felt like Cinderella at the ball and was afraid we were going to look completely incompetent next to the other dogs. Luckily, Porter is a smart cookie, and while he wasn't the best dog, he certainly didn't embarrass me. His biggest fault right now is that he doesn't respect the sheep's space, which is why they scatter so often when he runs at them. So, we have a lot to work on in the coming weeks!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spring break!

I am so excited to have an entire week with no school obligations. Okay, I do have a bit of grading to catch up on, but I don't have to go anywhere for a whole week, and neither does Mike, which means we should get a lot done around here. That's good because we are so far behind!

My order from Heirloom Seeds just arrived this week. I ordered in January. At that time, they said it would be a month because they had so many orders. I'd say business is booming for them because it does not normally take that long to get orders. Sounds like people are perhaps tired of the GMOs and/or wanting to grow more of their own food for health and/or economic reasons. "All of the above" sounds good to me!

Just a few things we have to get done in the next week:
  • get garden cleaned up (yank out all the old, dead plants from last year)
  • put up the greenhouse we bought on clearance last fall
  • plant cold-hardy things like onions, spinach, and peas
  • start seeds indoors for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and other sensitive stuff that can't go outside until early May
  • make soap
  • clean out the barns
  • move mama goats from kidding barn to milking barn
  • make cheese, buttermilk, and yogurt
  • butcher a few chickens and turkeys
Mike got started today by putting up shelves and lights for starting our seeds in the basement, while I sorted out the seeds and put them into piles of "when to plant." We went shopping and bought the seed-starting mix, as well as the flats and little pots. I gave Joy a bath this afternoon. Tomorrow morning, we'll attack the barns, then after lunch I'm taking Porter to a intro-to-herding class. I imagine tomorrow night's post will be rather interesting, if not entertaining.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Creek for sale

Have you ever wanted something, and then when you got it, you realized it wasn't all that you thought it would be? In fact, you really wish you did not have it?

It has recently come to my attention that we seem to have a lot more drama around here than people on most farms and homesteads. And I realized that probably about half of it is caused by living on a creek. The creek provides a great home for coyotes to raise their families. The neighbor has seen a mama with pups for the past two summers, and mama coyote seems to think that our farm is the buffet for her babies. The creek is also home to beavers, which cut down trees. Mike doesn't mind that part, since they're helping him with fence posts. However, they also made a big dam at the east end of our property, and I think that's probably making our pastures flood more than they used to.

And then there are the floods. It happens so often that I even have a "flood" label for my blog posts. We have two or three a year, and we often wind up with animals to rescue from drowning or hypothermia. Once the electric fence is under water, it no longer works. And I know I will never forget the horror I felt when I learned that Margaret and Katherine risked their own lives to save our bucks from drowning one year. This past weekend, when we were gone, Margaret had to rescue the llamas. So, I have made a decision. I m going to sell the creek!

Winding creek for sale. Perfect for your little country estate. Selling very cheaply and will throw in a couple of ducks for decoration. Buyer is responsible for relocation of said creek. Email for more details or to make an offer. No reasonable offer refused!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Coco's birth as perceived at a mall

What an amazing weekend! I am so glad Margaret was here to save the day -- more than once. Friday and Saturday, I was speaking at a homeschool conference, and Sunday, Mike joined me, and we attended an apple tree grafting seminar and came home with six newly grafted apple trees that we'll be planting in about a month.

Friday, I had finished my first presentation and realized that the hotel was quite warm. I had, unfortunately packed turtlenecks. Not wanting to pass out in front of an audience, I thought it would be prudent to go shopping and buy a non-turtleneck to wear for Saturday's presentations. As Katherine and I were getting out of the car at the mall, she received a text message from Margaret saying that Coco was in labor. I immediately wanted to get back into the car and head home! Only minutes earlier, the vet from U of I had finally called me back and explained the whole procedure for a c-section and said that it would be somewhere between $150 and $300.

Katherine called home and learned that Coco's water had already broken, so she would either give birth or be on her way to U of I by the time we could get home. So, I was pacing through the department store, hardly looking at anything. I called home again and instructed Jonathan to call me the minute a kid was born. A few minutes later, the call came that Coco had given birth to a Nigerian buck. I felt slightly better, although I went from worrying about the kids being too big to worrying about having a bunch of tiny Nigerian quads or quints!

After another 20 minutes, my phone crowed again (a rooster is my ring tone), and I quickly answered. Mike said there were still just the first two. Two? No one called me about a second one. Oops, sorry about that. Yeah, she had a second buck. Mike also informed me that the first buck didn't have any noticeable horn buds, but he added that the kid was small, so maybe he just hadn't developed them yet. Could Draco be the dad? Hmm . . . I know I wanted to breed her to Draco, but I didn't think that had happened.

After another 20 minutes or so, I learned that number three and four were born, and she finally had a doe. And when I say "finally," I don't just mean finally after three bucks on Friday. I mean "finally" after having triplet bucks and twin bucks in past years! Since it looks like she is going to be one of those does who throws almost all of one sex, it is certainly tempting to keep the little doe. Argh! I wasn't going to keep any kids this year! I need to reduce my numbers! But I have heard of does only throwing two or three doelings in their entire lives. But my oldest child -- and number one milker -- is going off to college next fall! And I've already been thinking that I'll keep Lizzie's doe since she's polled, and I've never kept a doe from Lizzie, who is already four. Coco is five. Ugh! Decisions!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Trouble happens in threes

I was the last one up this morning, which is pretty typical on a Sunday. And with Daylight Savings, I lost an hour of sleep that I would have liked to get back. Unfortunately, 'twas not to be. Jonathan didn't get a chance walk Mom's dog, Joy, before he left for church so I had to get up and do it before she had an accident. Once I was up there seemed little point in going back to bed, so I headed outside to do chores.

Imagine my surprise when I walked out to fill the goats' hay feeders and saw the llamas standing in water at the bottom of the middle pasture. I had thought llamas were slightly sensible creatures who should have realized they needed to retreat to much higher ground when it started flooding -- but no, they were at the bottom of the pasture standing in water that was probably 4-6 inches deep, with water up to 2 feet around them.

I immediately ran down and took my shoes off to go in. I'd been in this situation before and didn't know how long the llamas had been standing in the frigid water. The air temperature wasn't too bad -- probably around 50 degrees at the time -- but because of the time of year, the water felt around 33 degrees. I didn't walk more than 4 feet in (and 2 feet deep) before I felt like my feet and calves were going to freeze off. I quickly got back out of the water, put my socks and boots back on, and headed back to the barn, hoping I would think of something while I finished chores.

Well, right when I finished chores I heard Sovalye, our livestock guardian who is currently locked up in the barn, whining very loudly. I looked over at the stall he was in and realized that he had ripped down all the chicken wire that had been covering the bars. I wasn't sure why he would have done that but he seemed very upset. After finding a collar and leash, I took him outside for a walk. I pretty much just let him lead me where he wanted to go, as I didn't have a preference, and we eneded up by the sheep pasture. You've probably heard my mom say before that sheep hardly, if ever, make noise. I heard a very upset baaing coming from the bottom of their pasture, which surprised me, as their pasture doesn't flood and I couldn't fathom what could be the matter.

Squinting my eyes (I didn't have my glasses on), I saw that Snuggles, our Southdown Baby Doll wether, appeared to have gotten caught in some baling twine. We just got a large circular bale of hay for the sheep, so that we don't have to take half a bale out to their pasture every day, and Dad tied a tarp over it yesterday with baling twine. Unfortunately, some of the twine and come down and caught Snuggles to the point that he was almost choking himself, it was so tight. Thank goodness Sovalye decided we need to visit the sheep!

As Sovalye and I walked back to the barn, I tried calling Dad and Mom, who are off at a seminar about apple trees (I think). The only thing I could think of, since I absolutely did not want to go in that water again, was to take the inflatable raft to get to the llamas, and try to get them to move through the water to dry land. (Although how exactly that would have worked, I'm not sure.) I deposited Sovalye in the shed with the momma goats and their babies so he would have some company, and headed back to look at the llamas. One of them had moved about 10 feet from their original spot, where the other llama still was. However, he seemed very unwilling to move more.

Dad called me 10 minutes later as I was contemplating exactly how to get the raft blown up. He didn't have any other ideas, and neither did Mom. After dragging the raft about 300 feet into the barn, I really didn't want to try to blow it up, so I went out to look at the llamas again. Surprise! The pasture had drained some, and they were standing on semi-dry land, though still surrounded by 2-foot-deep water. However, knowing that I would be able to stand on that semi-dry land once I reached them, I was more willing to wade across. Once again, I stripped off my boots and socks and started across. It wasn't as deep as it had been earlier, and I found slightly higher ground, though the water was still above my knees for much of the 100-foot walk. By the time I reached them my feet had started to go numb, which was a blessing for the most part, but made me worry about all sorts of things -- like if it was possible my toes would turn black and fall off before I made it out of there.

When I reached the llamas, they were not at all happy to see me. They aren't the friendliest, and I had to grab the smaller one around the neck to try and put a halter on him. I finally got it on, but as soon as I tried to start dragging him across the water, he planted his legs firmly on the ground. Unfortunately, the halter wasn't tight enough and he was able to pull out of it. I was so terrified that my toes were going to fall off that I started chasing them to try and put the halter back on one of them. Eventually, after about 2 minutes, I was able to chase them into the far pasture (they both jumped the fence) and onto dry land. They seemed improperly ungrateful for my sacrifice. Walking back to the house, I didn't even bother to put my shoes or pants back on (which had fallen off after getting soaked), as my feet were so numb they didn't really notice the cold.

Once inside, I hopped right into the shower. All of this activity makes me a little sad -- I'll be going to college this fall, and as much as I'm glad to get away from this craziness (this is not the first time I have crossed frigid water to save animals), I think part of me is going to miss it. I was just accepted to the College of Engineering (Electrical Engineering major) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a transfer student, and that is probably where I will be this fall.

Update on Coco's babies: They seem to be doing well, momma is making lots of milk, and the babies are getting enough food. We'll be keeping a close eye on them, as we seem to have trouble with quads, but for now they're doing well. There is a possibility that two of the bucks and possibly the doe are polled -- if so, that means there's only one possibility for daddy: Draco. Naughty boy! We'll be able to tell for sure in a few days.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Coco finally kidded!

And it appears there was another buck out that we either didn't realize, or forgot to write down. Because these were definitely NOT half-LaMancha kids. All four (yes, four!) have regular ears and, although on the larger side for Nigerian kids, nothing astounding.

The event went as follows...

5:45pm - I arrived home from work and went straight to the barn. As I walked in the door, I heard Coco let out a scream. Walking quickly to her pen, I found that her water had broken and she had a thick string of mucus.

5:55pm - Coco starts pushing like she actually wants to do something about it.

5:58pm - I inform her, quite calmly, that if I don't see a hoof, mouth, hock, etc, by 6:10, she'd better be ready for me to go in for a vaginal exam. Generally we wait a while before doing that, but since odds were pretty good she was going to be having trouble, I didn't want to put it off.

6:05pm - I ask Jonathan to get me the lube, and show it to Coco, explaining what's going to happen if she doesn't get serious.

6:08pm - I ask Dad to get alcohol and latex gloves, in preparation for going in.

6:12pm - There's been a slight delay, as the gloves are hard to find. However, Coco has realized she's run out of time, and begins pushing like she REALLY means it.

6:13pm - The first kid is born!

There was a good 10 minute break between the first and second kids, then about 15 minutes between the second and third kids, and then 10 seconds between the last two. Three bucks (born first) and a doe (born last). Three of the kids seemed very skinny when they were born, more so than usual, so I made sure to give them NutriDrench. The first-born in particular was troublesome. His coordination was nowhere to be found and he didn't seem very excited about living in the real world.

As of now, they've all nursed off mom. I attempted to give them some of their mom's colostrum from a bottle, but unfortunately all of our Pritchard teats have been destroyed, and goats don't take well to the nipples on human-baby-bottles. Coco's colostrum is very, very thick, so I am hopeful that even the smallish amount that I observed the kids drinking will be enough to keep them going. I will be trying again in the morning to get them to nurse off a bottle. However, for now, sleep sounds like an excellent idea.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Trying to find a vet

Thanks to the comments left on my last post, I decided to make a couple more phone calls to vets today. And it's a good thing, since that other vet still has not called me back. I called the vet who lives closest to us, although I had a feeling she would probably say she couldn't do a c-section, and I was right. She works out of her home, and she said she doesn't have the right equipment. She also said what I'd heard before -- that a lot of vets get frustrated doing c-sections on goats because you get it finished, and then the doe doesn't wake up or falls over dead shortly afterwards. Goats have a reputation for not handling anesthesia well.

I also called the University of Illinois, and they have not called me back yet, which is disappointing and frustrating. They are a two-hour drive, and I hate the idea of having to drive Coco two hours if she should need a c-section, but a friend of mine did it last year. The local vet encouraged me to call them and talk to them ahead of time, since they appreciate knowing that something like this might be coming.

I have a friend whose goat had a c-section at U of I two years ago, and I called her tonight. She said it was less than $200, which was good news! I was so relieved when she said that. I can't imagine the price would have gone up that much in two years, so I won't have to worry about having to put her down if she winds up needing a c-section. My perky attitude quickly turned south, however, when my friend told me that since goats don't do well with anesthesia, they did not anesthetize her goat. "It was not easy to watch," she said. They gave the goat a local on her abdomen and blindfolded her, and two vet students laid on top of her to hold her down while the vet did the surgery. Lovely options -- use anesthesia that could kill the goat or don't use anesthesia. No wonder vets don't like to do c-sections on goats.

My friend also had more bad news. The reason her goat had a c-section was because the kids (quad bucks) were so big, there was not room inside the doe for them to get into position to be born. That thought had been hopping around in my head since looking at her this afternoon. I was wondering how she could have room for the kids to move around.

Tomorrow morning, I'm leaving at 7 a.m. to go teach, and I won't be home until Sunday night. I'm speaking at a homeschool conference this weekend, and I'm attending an apple tree grafting seminar on Sunday, which just happens to be in the same town. Amazing coincidence. I am disappointed and nervous that I don't have a vet on stand-by in case the family needs to call this weekend, although U of I has always been good about getting back to us immediately when it's an emergency.

It is getting harder to check Coco's ligaments because she has decided she doesn't want us touching her there, so she walks non-stop as we're trying to do it, which completely messes up the perception of what we're feeling. At chore time tonight, I first had a hard time feeling the ligaments, but then she started walking, and I felt them. Does that count?

I feel like I'm going to cry whenever I look at her picture and compare it to how she looked at that show two years ago. I feel guilty because I should have been able to keep Hercules away from her. But as they say, boys will be boys. I'm glad I castrated him. I only wish I'd done it sooner.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Worried about Coco

I've been writing this post in my head for two weeks, while simultaneously trying to convince myself that I am just worrying over nothing. Now I have pulled out the calendar and realize I have nothing left but hope that somehow I am wrong.

On Oct. 14 and 17, my la mancha buck jumped two fences and got into the pasture with my Nigerian does. It was obvious a couple of does were in heat, so I gave them injections of lutalyse to end the pregnancies, in case they had been bred. I also lutalysed the doe kids, because being impregnated by a la mancha buck would mean certain death for them. I thought Coco was already bred, so I didn't worry about her. And I castrated the la mancha buck. I decided it was just too much of a risk to have a standard-sized, intact buck anywhere near my Nigerian does.

If Coco got pregnant by Tennessee Williams when he jumped the fence, she should have freshened by now, and her ligaments are still there. I finally sat down and calculated a due date based upon an October 14 breeding. She would be due March 8 to 13. An October 17 breeding would make her due March 11 to 16. She just keeps getting bigger and bigger and shows no signs of going into labor any time soon. To make matters worse, since we thought she was due mid-January, we've been giving her grain since early January, which is two months. Normally I only give grain to my does for the last two weeks of pregnancy. All that grain will make bigger kids. The only thing that might save her is the fact that multiples run in her family so strongly on both her dam's and sire's side, and she herself has had triplets already. If she has quads or quintuplets, they'll be smaller than if she only has two or three in there. Obviously, smaller is easier to birth, so now I find myself hoping she has quintuplets or even sextuplets! This picture was taken today, and I can't believe how big she is. Click here to see a picture of her at a show two years ago. She is not a short-legged doe!

I received my copy of Ruminations magazine in the mail today and read an article entitled, "A Life or Death Decision." It was about a goat that was carrying a very large single kid. The owner wound up in the vet's office faced with the decision of whether or not to spend $800 to have a dead kid delivered via c-section -- after already spending $400 on the x-rays and ultrasound for the diagnosis. They opted to have the goat euthanized. The point of the article was that goat breeders need to think about these things ahead of time and even talk to their vet and find out the cost of a c-section, in case they are ever faced with that decision. It's better to think about it ahead of time, rather than in the middle of an emergency situation when you are likely to be emotional.

So, I put down the magazine and picked up the phone to call the best goat vet I know. The office is an hour away. I asked the receptionist how much a c-section would cost for a goat. She said I'd have to talk to a vet about that, but they're all out of the office this week. "Do you need it soon?" she asked. I told her the situation, and she said she'd give them my message when they called in this evening. Now I'm sitting here waiting for the phone to ring, hoping that somehow I'm wrong, and trying to put a price on Coco's life.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Freaking out in the Twilight Zone

Life just keeps getting weirder. The faltering economy means different things to different people, and it's hard to comprehend what it means out here. After taking a couple of kittens off my neighbor's hands, I mentioned to the vet that people were dumping an awful lot of cats lately. She said that's because the county can't afford to keep them in the pound, so they won't take any from owners. So, owners are just dumping them out in the country. That was sad enough, but I heard something even sadder this weekend.

Apparently, not knowing what else to do with them, some people are castrating stray males themselves. I won't repeat the procedure here, because it was rather barbaric -- sounds like something from the Civil War era surgical books -- and I certainly don't want to give anyone else any ideas. The person who told me about it said that most of them survive.

Then today I received a letter from a couple of Shetland shepherds who can no longer care for their sheep and are looking to give them away to someone. They had photocopied their letter and just filled in my first name after "Dear" in the salutation of the letter, so the letter obviously went to a number of people with Shetlands.

A friend also called today and started telling me about people deserting horses in parks that allow riding. Since horses cost a small fortune to keep boarded, and no one is buying horses right now, some people take them to the parks to ride them, and then just leave them when no one is looking.

And to put icing on the cake today, I had a visit from a very suspicious man. He called last week and asked a lot of questions about taking care of goats, then he said he'd stop by sometime and asked me for directions. I told him to call whenever he was ready to head over, and I'd give him directions then. Well, today my phone rang, and he said he was outside looking at my sheep. I told him I'd be right outside, and he said that I didn't need to come out. He just didn't want me to worry if I looked out the window and saw someone with my animals. He was just going to head back down the road so he could look at my goats.

"No, just give me a minute, and I'll be right out!"

"Oh, no, I don't want to bother you. You don't need to come outside," he said in this sweet grandfatherly-sounding voice.

"Well, you won't know who you're looking at or what if I'm not out there to tell you."

"Oh, that's okay. I just want to see what they look like. I don't want to bother you."

And we went back and forth until Jonathan saw him pulling into the driveway, and I blurted out, "Don't get out of your car! I have a big dog, and he hates strangers, and I don't know where he is! Don't get out of your car until I get out there!" He stopped arguing at that point, and I went out to meet him. (I knew exactly where both my dogs were, by the way.)

He was short and a little overweight with a long white untrimmed beard and no teeth. I took him into the barn to see the babies, and he said that he just wanted to see what they looked like so he'd know what size crate he'd need to transport one. Then he starts sizing up the adults, even though I never said the adults were for sale. He pointed to Coco and asked, "Is that one pregnant?" I said yes. And he started talking about what a good home they'd have and how they'd be in "goat heaven." That was a phrase he kept repeating -- "goat heaven." I know it's a metaphor, but somehow it was making me really uncomfortable. After he left, I realized he didn't ask any questions that buyers normally ask -- not even prices! He never asked any of the goats' names or production history or anything. As he went to leave, he never said anything about getting back to me, calling me later, or buying a goat. But he did keep talking about what a good home they'd have and how happy the goats would be in "goat heaven."

Okay, so, I suppose this man could be completely devoid of any normal social skills, but it's hard for me to believe that anyone could be so clueless. I had to practically threaten the man with being mauled by my dog before he would let me come out into my yard to show him my animals!

I asked him how he found our place, and he said he just went to the gas station in town and asked, "Where's Old MacDonald's Farm?" and someone gave him directions. That seems really strange also, but I don't think my physical address is on the net anywhere.

Needless to say, the barn is locked tonight! I wish I had a way to lock up the sheep. I am freaked out though, knowing two goat breeders who've had goats stolen, and reading the Shetland shepherd's story about her neighbor's cow being shot with an arrow and butchered in the pasture. We should probably be looking at how we can put all the animals behind locked doors and gates. The world is getting increasingly weird and scary.


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