Friday, April 30, 2010

A gosling and poults

Wednesday, I was looking out the library window and saw a gosling scampering among the geese. Yes, Mama Goose's month-long vigil on her nest has had a somewhat happy conclusion. She had nearly a dozen eggs, and I have no idea what happened to the others, but only one hatched. Mama Goose certainly gave it enough time though, because the nest is stinky! We need to remove the eggs from the little coop and pitch them before one of the dogs decides they'll make a nice snack. Sorry I don't have a picture of the little downy wonder, but my camera was having problems again.

Yesterday, our turkey poults (above) arrived from Privett Hatchery in New Mexico. I finally decided to overcome my aversion to white turkeys, and I ordered 20 white Holland turkeys, which are a heritage breed. We've raised almost every heritage turkey out there except for the white Hollands, because I was always worried that people would think that they're the modern mutants as soon as they saw the white feathers. White Hollands are one of the rarer breeds of heritage turkeys. Maybe a lot of people have an aversion to white turkeys? Or they figure that if they can choose a heritage breed, why not choose one of the beautiful colors?

I have also been averse to having any kind of white poultry because they are a blinking beacon for predators when free ranging. One of my daughters insisted on getting white rock chickens one year, and few survived. However, for the past four years, when we raise turkeys for Thanksgiving, we have them in movable pens, so they're safe from predators. Not having to worry about predators, I decided it would be fun to try a new breed. Plus, I always like to encourage the hatcheries to hatch the less popular breeds.

These little birds are definitely nothing like the mutants. They're the spunkiest poults I remember receiving in many years. One almost jumped out of the box when I opened it! They're practically hyperactive. Every single one survived the trip from New Mexico. Privett is my favorite hatchery, because they have the healthiest turkeys. We originally ordered turkeys from McMurray and Cackle, but the Privett turkeys impressed us from the first order about five years ago because mortality was lower upon arrival and for the first couple weeks.

Privett is also one of the few hatcheries in the U.S. that actually hatches heritage turkeys. I know that sounds weird, but a lot of hatcheries are drop shipping birds that were hatched by someone else. Privett was even featured in a recent edition of my newsletter from the American Livestock Breed Conservancy. The only thing I don't like about them is that they've discontinued their online ordering. The catalog is not online either, which I'm afraid is going to negatively affect their business.

Hopefully we will also have some home-hatched turkey poults this year. One of the slate hens is setting in a brush pile behind the garden. I think she's been there for a couple of weeks, so only another couple weeks to go, since incubation is 28 days for turkeys. Mike informed me yesterday that it appears she has been joined by a bourbon red hen. Turkeys are interesting with this co-mothering thing. It happens at least once a year that two hens will claim the same nest. Once the eggs hatch, the babies will be back and forth between two mamas.

If you want to know more about the difference between heritage turkeys and supermarket turkeys, check out Let's Talk Turkey from last October. And if you just can't wait to see pictures of the poults that will hopefully hatch in a couple weeks, check out Turkey Surprise from last May.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Online auction, author interview, and trip to Antiquity

I don't remember how I heard about Brenda Novak's Online Auction for Diabetes Research, but I knew immediately that I wanted to help. Last year, I donated a scarf made from our llama and sheep wool. I wrote the biography of the two animals that donated their fiber for the scarf, which I sent to the winner, along with photos of the animals.

This year, I'm donating a five-day, four-night stay at Antiquity Oaks, including all meals. Click here to learn more about what else is included. If you have no interest in bidding on a homesteading vacation, I would still encourage you to head over to the auction and check out all the incredibly cool things that have been donated, like lunches with best-selling authors, a trip to Mexico, books, and jewelry.

I asked Brenda Novak to join us today, because I'm sure she can answer your questions better than I can. To get started, I've asked her a few questions. And in case you didn't click on Brenda's link yet, she's a romance novelist, so there are lots of books in the auction, as well as manuscript critiques by agents and editors, which are very hard to come by. Usually agents just send you a form rejection letter, and you have no idea why they didn't want to represent your work. If you're a writer, you should check those out.

Deborah: Lots of people have children with diabetes, but most of them are not out there raising hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. What made you decide to do something like this?

Brenda: From the moment my son was diagnosed I wanted to do something to fight back. It's that old instinct of wanting to protect the child who's threatened, I guess. But as I've gotten more and more involved in fundraising I've realized that Thad isn't the only reason I do it. There are SO many out there in the same situation. Too many. I believe this is a disease we can beat, and I'm making it my life's mission to push for a cure.

Deborah: What are your favorite items in this year's auction?

Brenda: Oh boy! There are so many! LOL I would love to come to Antiquity Oaks. I've never even heard of another place like it so I think that opportunity is a special one. Beyond that, the Marilyn Sears Bourbon painting is one of my very favorites. She is an amazing artist. I own three of her paintings already and would love to have this one, too. The trip to Hawaii from Jane Porter sounds like a dream come true. I think it would be a blast to head over and relax on the beach. Then there are the Coach purses from Anna DeStefano, a ton of autographed books from Booklovers Bookstore, the Treasure Trove from Lauren Hawkeye and the antique jewelry from Dianne Despain. I often pour through those categories. Oh, and I salivate over the opportunities, thinking about how much I would've enjoyed buying agent and editor reads when I was unpublished. I'm very happy with my publisher (love, love, love my editor) and my agent and yet I'm tempted to bid on these reads just because I see them as golden. And they are golden! We've had writers find an agent through the auction. One writer even sold her book to Harlequin because of the auction.

The author critiques are some of the best bargains. These people do such a good job in helping those who win their feedback. We even have New York Times Bestselling Authors doing some of these critiques (as well as authors who will one day hit the big lists ).

The promotion items for published authors always get me excited, too. MJ Rose has donated a fabulous AuthorBuzz package I'd love to have. Heather Graham has donated a trip to New Orleans for the Writer's for New Orleans Conference over Labor Day. It would be wonderful to win either of those things. And I'd dearly love to have lunch with Catherine Coulter, Barry Eisler or Diana Gabaldon, all of which have been generous to donate their time.

I could go on all day, as you can tell. LOL There are 2000 items--including an iPad from Nancy Berland Public Relations (something I have my eye on). But I do want to mention what's new this year. I'm sponsoring a writing contest via the auction. All entry fees go to research, of course, but the benefit to the writer is this: a panel of New York Times Bestselling Authors will judge the entries, I'll pick the winner from the finalists, and that winner will receive a six-month mentorship from me as well as guaranteed reads from my agent and my editor.

Deborah: Tell us about your son. What does Thad like to do? Does his diabetes slow him down at all?

Brenda: My son doesn't let diabetes slow him down at all. He's larger than life and, as the baby of the family, loved well and probably a bit too indulged. He plays a lot of sports and loves to buy tools and fix things. He's an entrepreneur in the making--always planning how he's going to make money by starting this business or that. I don't know that I've ever met a more capable or loving child. He has a great sense of humor and loves people of all kinds. I do wish he'd be more careful with his diabetes, however. He doesn't want to have the disease so he often tries to ignore it, which is very dangerous.

Deborah: What does the future look like for Thad and other children with diabetes?

Brenda: I think it looks very bright! I believe we'll find a cure that will enable my son and all the other children (and adults) with diabetes to live longer, healthier and more comfortable lives.

And it's not too late to make a donation. I heard about the auction last year when there was only a week or two left, but I contacted Brenda and asked if I could make a donation. If you'd like to donate an item to the auction, just click here and let Brenda know about it!

If you have any questions, post it in the comment section, and Brenda will be checking in today to respond.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Goats grazing

Goats are not supposed to be grazers. They are browsers, which means they prefer to eat leaves. I've recently learned that this is why they have more trouble with parasite resistance than sheep. For eons, sheep have been eating off the ground, so their systems can handle worms in their stomach and intestines. Goats have been eating from the trees since the beginning of time, and only recently we humans have tried to turn them into grazers. So, what can you do if you don't have a forest to feed your goats? You can move them to fresh pasture at least every five days.

I'm hoping I'll have time to share all my intestinal worm research with you, but for now, I've discovered why we've had such a tough time getting control over the parasites, even though we've been practicing rotational grazing. Several years ago, a vet professor at U of I told me that parasite eggs hatch in three weeks, so the goats need to be moved to fresh pasture sooner than that. Now I've read that they hatch in five days! And that comes from the Southern Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control, which has been doing all the latest research on internal parasites, so they're pretty reliable. Besides, it actually makes more sense that the little buggers would hatch in five days. Three weeks for something microscopic to hatch sounds crazy. Fly eggs hatch in 24 hours. Chicken eggs take three weeks!

So, now that the grass is growing again, we're moving the bucks around our yard to eat our grass. We use the ElectroNet from Premier in Iowa. When it abuts our permanent fence, we hook it up to that. Otherwise, we use a solar charger. Now that we know how often the goats need to be moved, maybe we'll get better control of the parasite problem.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chicken for dinner?

I happened to be in a feed store on April Fool's Day, and if you've ever been in a feed store in spring, you know that they often have chicks, ducklings, and turkey poults for sale. I've always ignored these little birds, because we've bought large quantities of baby birds directly from hatcheries. I don't know what inspired me that day, but I decided to buy eight of the Cornish cross chicks.

Cornish cross are the hybrid chickens that are sold in supermarkets, and they're the number one chicken raised for meat by small farmers, including Joel Salatin, who is one of the gurus of the better-than-organic food movement. We have never raised them, because they're prone to all sorts of medical and orthopedic problems. Besides that, one of the reasons we moved out here was to raise heritage animals. Like heritage turkeys, heritage chickens can mate naturally and fly, and they are extremely healthy. They have almost zero mortality or orthopedic problems.

But "everyone" tells us we should raise the CC hybrids. The Amish who process our chickens for us have told us more than once that we should be growing the Cornish crosses, because they get so much bigger than our heritage chickens. Other farmers talk to us like we're clueless, and they're going to enlighten us -- don't you know how big CC chickens get? Maybe I decided to do my little experiment with the CC because I was just tired of not having my own experience to share. You can't believe everything you read, right? So, maybe I should give the little mutants a chance and see if they are as great as "everyone" says.

My son met me in the driveway as I was getting out of the car. I had called from the feed store and asked him to get a brooder ready. "Cool!" he said as he looked at the little box I was holding. "So, we'll have chicken in three or four months?"

"No, we'll have chicken in six weeks," I said. He looked at me silently as if thinking that I were joking.

"Are they organic?" he asked.

"Well, we'll raise them that way, but they're the mutant chicks that grow really fast," I explained.

A flurry of questions came from him and later from my daughter, who asked incredulously, "You're not going to eat them, are you?"

"Well, I don't think that eating eight of them is going to kill us. They'll be our junk food for the year." I laughed. She didn't see the joke.

"I can't believe you're going to eat them." She sounded genuinely disappointed.

When I posted the news on the Antiquity Oaks Facebook page, someone said that I should get eight heritage birds to compare them side by side. What a great idea! So, the next day I went back to the feed store and bought eight barred rocks. I also bought a separate bag of feed, so we could keep track of the food intake of the two breeds individually.

The first thing I learned is that you do have to restrict their feed intake. One of the eight mutant chicks died at a week of age. They already weighed 50% more than the heritage chickens at that point. Although the feed store gave us no information on raising them, I knew that many of the hatcheries advise you to provide feed for only 12 out of every 24 hours. (This photo shows the chicks at two weeks of age.)

"I can't believe we're putting babies on a diet!" I told my son, who is in charge of taking care of the meat animals on the farm. "Every night you have to remove their feed, and then put it back in there every morning. I guess it's true that they will eat themselves to death if you let them have access to feed 24 hours a day."

It's been four weeks since they hatched, and the difference is amazing. All eight of the barred rock chicks are still healthy and active. The mutant chicks are half naked because their feathers can't keep up with their body growth. They just sit and eat. They remind me of the stereotypical overweight American sitting in front of the television, mindlessly eating and drinking beer. One of them looks like his back end is going to explode. It's ascite, a common disease in these birds, which leads to heart failure. Basically, he has developed hypertension from all the eating. From what I've read, it sounds like he's going to die prematurely.

Now I'm starting to ask myself -- do I want to eat these birds? They're genetically predisposed to eat constantly and develop hypertension and heart disease. Of course, the industry didn't want to develop a sick bird. They wanted to create one that gained weight really fast, so they could make money faster. The disease is a side effect of growth that outstrips anything nature ever intended. I understand why the Animal Welfare Approved program does not approve farms that raise the mutants. The act of raising these birds -- regardless of what you do -- is not humane.

I feel like Michael Pollan after he grew the genetically-modified potatoes in his garden when writing Botany of Desire. He could never bring himself to eat them, knowing that they contained their own pesticide. He had actually watched a potato beetle die after taking a bite out of a leaf. Yet he also knew that he had been eating GM potatoes, because like all GM food, they are not labeled in stores or restaurants.

These are the chickens that 99% of America eats. They are the only chicken sold in stores and restaurants. What happens to your body if you are eating an animal that is genetically predisposed to over-eating, obesity, hypertension, and heart disease? Since we haven't eaten commercially-grown meat in 21 years, it is not something that I worry about for myself, but it is a question that I have about everyone else who is eating this meat. And since almost everyone is eating this meat, it is a question that no one can answer.

Will we eat these chickens in two weeks? I really don't know. But I do know that I will not be raising them again, and I also know what I'll say next time someone asks me why I don't raise them.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Desperation and the Dog

Somewhere in the barn, a chicken is dieing. I hope she's already dead. She probably is. Few can survive a dog attack. Although attack is not the right word. It sounds mean, and Trouper doesn't have a mean bone in his body. His tail was wagging, and I never heard a growl as he pounced on the chicken. I wonder if he liked to play with squeaky toys when he was a puppy.

When I walked into the kidding barn yesterday, Trouper and Porter were on my heels as usual. Scratching in the straw in front of the kidding pens were four New Hampshire red hens and a rooster. They're not supposed to be in there, because their poop is as slippery as a wet bar of soap on the concrete floor. My plan was to circle around behind them and shoo them out of the barn. Two hens ran into a corner, so I picked up one and let her fly out of my hands towards the door.

I looked to my left as Trouper pounced on a chicken. I screamed, "No! Stop it! Bad dog!" over and over again. His head was bouncing up and down as he tried to keep his hold on the chicken and she struggled to escape. Chicken feathers were flying in all directions. I kicked him as I continued screaming, "No! No! Bad dog!" Then he let go of the chicken, sat up, and looked at me. I was too hysterical to do anything other than continue screaming, "Bad dog!" He realized it had been a mistake for him to help me catch chickens, and he headed for the door. I ran after him, continuing to scream in case he suddenly changed his mind and decided to grab the chicken again.

After he was outside, I stared at him for a moment as he sat there looking at me so innocently. I wanted to slam the giant door dramatically in his face, but being 12-feet high, I only managed to slowly slide it closed. I ran back to where I had last seen the hen, but there was no sign of her. Another hen paced and clucked. I looked at the junk stored in the barn. It was not far from where Trouper had grabbed her, so she probably ran into a tiny space between a couple pieces of furniture or machinery. I dropped down on my hands and knees but couldn't see her in any of the spaces. It was quite dark after only a few inches though, so it is possible that she was sitting in the dark watching me. If she has already died, she won't start to stink for two or three days, which is just in time for a weekend activity -- sorting through our junk to find a dead chicken.

But the dead (or injured) chicken is the smallest half of the problem. The larger problem is that Trouper thinks most of the animals here are his play things. This is the first time he has attacked a chicken, but he killed two geese last month, and every time he is on the same side of the fence as a goat, he tries to play with it. When Pearl, the 8-month-old bottle brat, escaped from her pasture, he grabbed her by the neck and was shaking her. Amazing as it seems, she was not hurt at all, but what about next time?

When Sarah was visiting, we took Little Man out of his stall for halter training. I had forgotten that Trouper was running loose outside. As he snapped at the young llamas legs, three humans intervened to avert a tragedy. A couple days ago, Katherine got the goats out to milk, forgetting that Trouper was loose. She was able to stop him with her voice, and he went running out of the barn. That incident gave me hope. Perhaps we could teach him to be a farm dog. Now, I'm not sure. How many additional incidents can we handle?

Unless this is the first post you've read on my blog, you know how important my animals are to me. If I have to choose between a stray dog and my goats or my sheep, the answer is obvious. Sadly, I feel like I do have to choose. I emailed an all-breed rescue yesterday, and the woman responded that they can't take pit bulls or anything mixed with a pit. That's what I'd heard. It is why I had not even tried an all-breed rescue yet. Her only suggestion was to continue looking for other pit bull rescues.

If I'm honest with myself, I'm scared that he's going to hurt one of the goats. But then I go outside, and he's my buddy. He sticks to me like glue, on my heels everywhere I go. And if I notice that he's about to pounce on something, and I yell "No!" he stops. But once he lunges at an animal, he's deaf for at least a few seconds. He is very smart though and a real people pleaser. He just wants to be loved and praised.

Why did he have to be dumped here on my road? Why did we have to come along and find him? I don't really know how a human being ignores an injured animal on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I tell myself that we never should have stopped. We should have just kept driving. But how?

Yesterday, I just wanted him dead. I told myself that there are so many perfect dogs out there in rescue who need homes that there simply is not room for a dog who is incontinent. I convinced myself that he should be put down because I haven't found a rescue to take him, and he can't stay here because he could wind up hurting or killing my animals. It really is irrelevant whether he wants to eat them or just play with them -- the result is the same.

But in the light of a new day, I'm thinking that he can be trained to respect the other animals that live here. We just need to work harder on this. I keep remembering how he didn't touch a chicken until I did. As long as I was moving them with my body, that's what he was doing. As soon as I caught one, he did too. This is not the first time I've noticed that he watches me intently and follows my lead with the animals. Katherine researched pit bulls and learned that long before they were used for fighting, they were cattle dogs.

I believe that every animal that is born on this farm is a gift. It is here to feed us or provide us with income when we sell it or to teach us something. My brain keeps thinking that Trouper showed up on my road exactly when I was passing for a reason. I've already learned a lot by having him here, but does he have a permanent place on Antiquity Oaks? Or is this just a stopping point on the way to his forever home? Am I simply meant to be the matchmaker between him and his new family? I can't believe that our role in this story is simply to end his life.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

And the winner is . . .

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion with author Chris McLaughlin on Monday as we discussed composting and her new book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Composting. The winner of the book is SpinnersEnd! Contact me with your address, and I'll forward it to Chris. The book comes out May 8, so she'll mail it as soon as she has a copy. For the rest of us who didn't win, the book is already listed for pre-order with most of the on-line book sellers. And if you haven't checked out her blog yet, head over to A Suburban Farmer to see what else Chris is doing.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Update on new kidding pens

The humans' house might not be finished (almost six years since we broke ground), but the goats have been giving birth in style this year.

Mike was finishing up each kidding pen a day or two before each goat was due. He finished the first pens in February, a couple days before Carmen (below) kidded.

Now we have four private kidding suites, and two nursery pens. Okay, they're not entirely private, but they're as private as a goat wants them to be. They're herd animals, so they don't like too much privacy.

The kidding suites are individual spaces where a doe can give birth and start caring for her little kids without any other bossy goats bothering her.

After the kids are a week or two old, they are moved with their mother to one of the nursery pens, where they can get to know the other kids and moms.

One of the best things is that we used mostly reused and re-purposed materials. Those cool walls came out of a fancy horse barn that was being dismantled. It was a win-win scenario. We have amazing walls for our kidding pens, and these walls were saved from a landfill.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The well-bred kid

Introducing Eleanor and her little sister (and I do mean little). The first step in having well-bred kids is to give them proper names. Eleanor was named after Eleanor Roosevelt because she possesses the same forthright personality as the former first lady (and because all of Bonnie Parker's kids have a Great Depression theme). We still need to come up with a good name for the little sister. I keep thinking Bess Truman, but the Depression was technically over by the time Truman was in office.

A good breakfast is essential for a well-bred kid. Nothing but fresh-from-the-udder goat milk is good enough.
And then they need to play.
Of course, kids today need the best education, so you'll have to get plenty of good books. (Animorphs in the background here.)
And all kids today need computers. Eleanor is checking out her laptop.
They need a place to play when Mom can't keep an eye on them every minute.
And of course, they need a nice bed so they can take naps and get a good night's rest!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Visit with author of "Complete Idiot's Guide to Composting"

If your attempts at gardening have not been all that successful, don't give up. I grew great plots of weeds for years before I finally got it figured out. And I'm still learning more every year. My biggest mistake was that I thought I could just plant seeds and they'd grow. Ha! Then I heard that compost was a good organic fertilizer, so I figured you just pile things up, and they rot, right? Well, yeah, sort of.

Today we have a visit from Chris McLaughlin, author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Composting. If you want to grow organically, this is one of those skills that you simply must acquire. And it's a great way to make a lot of your garbage magically disappear. I had a few questions for Chris, so here goes --

Deborah: How did you get interested in gardening?

Chris: I started gardening when I was 14 years, several years ago for sure *grin*. I had a couple of tomato plants, and marigolds the first time around. I was surprised how much I enjoyed watching plants mature.

Deborah: How or when did you start writing?

Chris: I started writing in the 4th grade - seriously. I remember my 4th grade teacher telling me that I should be a writer. Of course, like all young writers, I dreamed of fiction and played with it on and off for years. Later, I realized how nice it was to share what I had been learning with other people and it dawned on me that non-fiction wasn't as boring as I had once thought, LOL. Because my love for growing things stayed with me and I delved more and more into the subject - it was natural for me to write about that.

Deborah: Why did you write a book on composting? It doesn't seem like a topic that would need a whole book to address it.

Chris: I was actually pedaling around another non-fiction book that I was writing about suburban farming (homesteading, or however you look at it). I had some great responses but I began to realize that the market was about to become saturated with this very topic. Instead of trying to push something that already had many voices, I decided to think ahead of the curve. What was it that all of the new gardeners (per the Victory Garden movement) out there were going to need? Ahhh...soil! New gardeners were about to be amazed at just how crappy their soil was - and I had the remedy: compost. By dumb luck, I had an agent interested in representing me at the very same time that a pub house was looking for someone who could write a composting all just lined up right.

By the way, I'd been an avid composter for years and was thrilled at the success I had with rabbit manure. I can create compost REALLY fast with my rabbits.

Deborah: What are you doing in your garden right now?

Chris: Oh, my. Well, I always have perennials and shrubs going husband loves Japanese maples and I love propagating, LOL. In my veggie garden I'm growing all heirlooms this year and trying varieties I've never tried before. I have 13 varieties of tomatoes but 42 of them..hehehe. Lettuce, broccoli, all kinds of mild peppers, carrots, cucumbers, beans, squash, radishes, watermelons - oh I'm growing Moon & Stars watermelon and a couple other delicious-looking ones that I have no idea where I'm going to fit them... I also end up tucking lots of annuals in everywhere to bring in the beneficial insects. This is also the first time that I'll be growing some gourmet beans for a local chef's restaurant and I'm super excited about that.

If any of you have questions about gardening or composting, click on "Comment" and start typing. Chris has agreed to hang around today and answer your questions. And she is also giving away a copy of her composting book! So, if you'd like to win a copy, just leave a comment, and you'll be automatically entered to win. Deadline to enter is Wednesday at midnight, central time, and Chris will mail the book to the winner as soon as it is available May 4.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rooing sheep

Wednesday, Jonathan and I were going to move two rams to a different pasture. When he grabbed one of them, he wound up with a handful of wool. He apologized, and I squealed with happiness, "He's rooing!"

As primitive sheep, some Shetlands still maintain the ability to roo. Long before shepherds began cutting the hair off sheep, they would naturally shed their wool in the spring. I've never heard why modern breeds no longer do this, but rooed wool is heavenly. It's even softer than normal because there is no cut edge.

Jonathan went into the house and retrieved a bag for us to store the wool. He held the sheep while I simply raked my fingers through the little ram's wool. As I pulled the wool off my fingers and dropped it into the bag, I felt my hands getting drenched in lanolin. Within five or ten minutes, the ram was mostly naked, and I had a bag of wool.

The above picture was taken when he was released into the pasture. I didn't bother to pull off the wool underneath his belly or on the back of his legs, since it's usually dirty and winds up being tossed anyway. And apparently I missed a few wispy pieces of wool on his side, but it wasn't enough to notice until I actually downloaded the photos from the camera. There really wasn't much wool left on his body.

Now, what to do with this magnificent wool? I feel like it should be used for something special, but what?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Spring surprise!

We've been out of goat minerals for a week because the feed mill somehow received medicated minerals, which I do not use. So, they had to be sent back and re-ordered. Jonathan picked them up today, and during evening chores, I decided to refill the mineral feeders. I walked into the dairy stall and nearly kicked a little kid as it scampered in front of me. What? A kid? Whose kid is that?

This is why I don't like pen breeding! I like to have a due date, so I know that somewhere within a one-week window, a goat will give birth. Athena had been with Draco last fall for a month, and was due anytime after April 16. Apparently she came into heat within a day or two of being put into the stall with Draco, because this would have been 146 days after her month-long romance started.

But anyway, back to the kid -- it's another doe! And she is really flashy. My camera is dieing a slow, painful death. Most of the pictures are blurry, and although these pictures look like she is black and white, some of those spots are dark brown. She was fluffy and had a full tummy when I found her. Athena has taken to mothering like a pro, which should not surprise me, because she is the granddaughter of the first goat I ever bought. Star could have easily won mother of the year, and is now enjoying a well-earned retirement at the age of 11. The only problem is that the little doe is missing a piece of skin on the top of her head. It's about the size of a dime and looks like the skin just peeled off this one spot. I can't figure out how it could have happened, and I hope it doesn't get infected. I'm glad everything else worked out fine though. It was in the 80s today, so there was no danger of hypothermia, which is unusual. We almost lost a kid to hypothermia in early May one year.

I am never happy about how many bucks we have, but now that we're in the midst of our second doe year in eight years, I am starting to think that too many does is not a good thing either, especially when they are all so cute! I need to practice . . . I will not keep any more does, I will not keep any more does, I will not . . .

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bonnie's big baby bonanza!

When I checked Bonnie's tail ligaments yesterday, they were soft, so I kept checking on her every hour or sooner if I happened to be near the kidding barn. We had just finished rooing a yearling ram, and I was about to start evening chores when I heard a sound that caught my attention. Was it Bonnie? When I looked into the window, I realized the loud mouth was Andi (nothing new there), but Bonnie looked like she was in labor, even though she was quiet. I walked into the barn and positioned myself so I could see her back end. There was a big blob of bloody mucous under her tail. Yep, definitely in labor. I walked into the kidding pen and sat down across from her. She stood up, walked to the far corner of the pen, and stared at me.

"You don't want me here?" I asked. "That's okay, I'll leave."

I checked everyone's water buckets and gave the goats more hay, keeping an eye on Bonnie the whole time. When she was laying down and pushing beyond the point of no return, I stepped into the pen and sat down. Once a head emerged, I crawled towards her, ready to wipe off the kid's nose. As soon as the baby was born, I laid it next to her face, so she could start to clean it off. But instead of starting to lick it, she curled her lip up and continued pushing. What? I had only cleaned off the nose and didn't even know the sex yet, and another head was emerging.

I grabbed another towel, popped the bag covering the baby's head and started to wipe off the nose, worried that number three would be shooting out even faster. Moments later, kid number two was born, and I laid it on the towel next to Bonnie's face. Three kids for a first freshener is unusual, but her belly was still plenty big. She started to lick the two kids in front of her, and I finally was able to check the sex. The first kid was a buck, and the second one was a doe.

Less than five minutes later, Bonnie pushed again, and I saw another bubble emerging. Since Bonnie was quite busy with the first two, I decided to clean up the third one myself. It was a buck. Triplets are unusual for a first freshener. Usually they have only one or two, but Bonnie had been larger than normal, so I had already been thinking about the possibility of triplets. I'd be nuts to think she had a fourth one in there, although I wasn't completely sure what was hanging out of her back end. Was it the cord that's attached to the placenta, or was it membranes attached to another baby? Not seeing another kid after ten minutes, I convinced myself it was just the end of the placenta.

When Bonnie stood up, I thought, yep she's done. And then -- plop! A little bag of mucous fell out of her back end onto the straw. I wasn't even sure if it was a kid, but I started clawing at the membranes with my fingernails to pop the bag. I could feel bones, so I knew it was a kid, but it was so tiny, and there was no color. Everything was beige. I ripped at the membranes, pulling them off of everything until I found a nose. I wiped it off, but couldn't feel any movement. Maybe it's been dead for a week or two, and that's why it's so small? I kept wiping. Then a sneeze and a shake of its head told me the kid was alive.

I put a clean towel down on the straw and laid the tiny kid on it. Maybe this is going to be one of those tiny little kids that just doesn't make it, I thought. Don't get your hopes up. Don't get attached. It is just so darn cute and small and helpless. Of course, it's a doe. Seems like they're always the tiny ones. It would never have a chance to get enough food with three big siblings and a mama that only has two teats. And the mama is a yearling. Maybe in a couple years, I'd trust Bonnie to raise four kids, but not this time. I picked up the other doeling and laid her on the towel with the tiny one. I placed both bucklings next to Bonnie's face so she could continue cleaning them and bonding with them.

It's not fair, but in the world of dairy, girls are simply worth more. Since Bonnie is a first freshener, the little bucks will be wethered and sold as pets. They're simply not worth as much, so I'll be raising the does, while Bonnie learns to be a mommy with the boys. And in the real world, little goats have to be able to hustle to get lunch, and I'm less convinced of the tiny doe's ability to do that. The first time we were confronted with a situation like this, my husband asked if we were messing with nature's plan by coddling a smaller, weaker kid. What about survival of the fittest? At the time, I had no answer other than simple compassion. I couldn't let a kid die. After eight years of seeing little goats grow up to be big and strong, I don't necessarily think that their birth status is a big indication of their genetic potential. Sometimes, kids just get unlucky in utero and wind up with the short end of the placenta. Carmen and Coco, my first two house goats, are perfect examples of runts growing up to be big, strong, and healthy. But, I digress . . .

Back in the kidding barn -- The bigger doeling was already trying to stand, while the little one was still learning to hold up her head. Membranes were hanging out of Bonnie's back end exactly as before the fourth one had been born, but I was fairly confident that there were no more kids. Bonnie seemed very content to clean the two babies in front of her, so I wrapped up the girls in a clean towel, hugged them to my chest, and headed for the house.

"Bonnie had quads!" I yelled to Jonathan as I walked in the door. As we set up the playpen for the doelings, I thought about how lucky it was that last weekend we saved some of Cleo's colostrum. The day after her kids were born, her udder looked full, so we milked her and put the colostrum in a freezer bag, marked with her name and the date.

While the colostrum was thawing, I decided to milk Bonnie to see if I could get a little more, but her boys had already sucked down one side to nothing, and I barely got enough from the other side to cover the bottom of the bucket. The little boys are very tenacious though, so I'm sure they'll get plenty. I brought Bonnie's colostrum back into the house. It was an ounce. Cleo's colostrum had thawed enough that I was able to add two more ounces to the bottle, which would be plenty for their first meal.

Bottle-feeding is so complicated compared to nursing though. Kids just know how to nurse. It might take them a few minutes, but they get it figured out quickly. Bottles, however, can be tricky. Colostrum poured all over my hand and the little doeling's face. The hole in the nipple was too big. Next nipple! Same problem. Pritchard teats don't have a hole in them when you buy them so, I pulled out a brand new nipple and barely cut off the tip, to make the tiniest hole imaginable. It worked, but the little does still didn't know quite how to do it. It's 20 hours later now, and they still don't quite have the hang of it, but I'm sure that they'll be sucking like pros before the day is done.

Joy the bichon and Porter the English shepherd are both convinced that the babies are theirs. Joy stares and whines and paces next to the play pen. She barked at a guest who arrived this morning -- she has never barked at anyone, but I suspect she wants to protect her babies. When I give the babies their bottles, Porter is right there to clean the dribbles off their faces, and he growls at Joy if she gets too close, even when they're in the play pen, so I can't leave the two of them unsupervised around the kids. One reason I don't like bottle-feeding is because I get too attached to the babies, even if they are the brattiest goats in the barnyard. And this little one is just so cute and cuddly. But I really don't need to keep more does this year! I really don't need to!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cleo's twin doelings

We had a visit last weekend from Sarah, our apprentice from November. She came back because she wanted to see a goat give birth. Starting on Thursday, Cleo's ligaments were so soft, that I kept thinking she was going to give birth "pretty soon." When I left for a speaking engagement in Chicago on Thursday, I figured she'd give birth later that night. When I left to pick up pigs on Friday, I figured she'd give birth while I was gone. When I got home with the piglets, however, Mike and Sarah said that Cleo had been waiting for me.

I went into the barn and sat down on the straw with her. She gave me more kisses than I've ever had from any goat. She licked my face and my neck over and over as I sat with her in the kidding pen. She kept making little two-syllable "ma-a, ma-a" bleats. She kept looking at my lap and pawing at my legs. I could tell she was thinking about crawling in my lap. She would lay down next to me on one side, and then almost immediately, she would get up again, turn around, and lay down on her other side. She was clearly uncomfortable. I went to the walnut grove where Mike and Sarah were finishing repairs on the fencing before releasing the piglets into their new home.

"Cleo is getting close," I said to Sarah. "You don't need to hurry, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to come get you later."

When I got back to the barn, I could tell that Cleo was very serious about giving birth. She was no longer making the little bleating sounds. Instead, a whispery moan escaped her throat with each push. She laid on her side and pushed her legs out in front of her body. Her big belly almost caused her to roll onto her back, but she jerked and pulled her upright again.

"No matter how many times you see this, you always get to a point where you feel like it's taking too long," I said to Sarah. "But really, she's fine. There's no sign that anything is wrong."

Finally, a hoof started to peak out, then a second hoof. "This is exactly the way it's supposed to be," I said. "First the front hooves, then the nose." And as if it were scripted, a nose appeared. "This is a textbook birth." The whole head appeared, and the body quickly followed. I put the little doe up by Cleo's face, so she could help me clean it off.

While Cleo licked her baby, I wiped it with a towel. The little doe shook her head and sneezed. Within minutes, she was scooting around the straw performing the goat baby equivalent of crawling. Cleo stood up and laid down a couple times. Then she seemed to stare off into the distance as if concentrating on something that none of us could see. I said to the little doe, "Okay, kid, you're on your own. It's time for Mommy to birth another baby." And the second kid was quickly born.

Two does! Of the 16 kids born so far this year, 12 are does. When you raise dairy goats, that's the equivalent of winning the lottery. Of course, we are only halfway through kidding for the year, and things could turn around, but I'm enjoying the dozen little does in the barn at the moment. And yeah, I'm keeping one of these -- the blurry one on the right.

Many thanks to Sarah for today's photos!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New pigs

Six piglets joined us Friday on Antiquity Oaks. Like all pigs we've had so far, they're Tamworth, which is a heritage breed. There are three gilts (girls) and three barrows (castrated boys). They'll all become pork in the fall.

Although they have the entire walnut grove to run around, they're a little scared about being in a new place, so they're spending a lot of time in their shelter. We keep them in the walnut grove because black walnut hulls are a natural dewormer, and walnuts make a great protein source.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Scandal's twin doelings

Last Tuesday, I was doing a Homesteading 101 lecture at a community college, and I knew Scandal was going to kid. I explained to her that she needed to hurry up, but she just sat there chewing her cud, looking completely unconcerned.

And I was right. She gave birth in the middle of my class. Jonathan was home and took care of everything. It was an uneventful birth, and Scandal delivered two of the flashiest does ever born on this farm. We just love looking at them!

Unfortunately, this little girl wouldn't turn around and show off her other side for the camera. As sad as it is, I'm thinking I need to sell both of these. I've already decided to keep four of the does that have been born, which is too many! These little girls have quite the pedigree with two master champion parents and a dam that has earned her one-day and 305-day milk stars. They'll be $550 each.

And the winner is ...

The winner of Sheri Ann Richerson's book is Wardhouse! Send me an email, deborah (at) antiquityoaks (dot) com with your address. I'll pass it on to Sheri, and she'll get your book in the mail!

Thanks to everyone who commented and asked questions, and thanks to Sheri for joining us!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Visit with gardening author (and a give-away)

We have a visit today from Sheri Ann Richerson, one of the authors of The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Year-Round Gardening, as well as 101 Organic Gardening Tips, 101 Gardening For Beginners Tips, 101 Ways To Self-Sufficiency Through Your Garden Tips and 101 Tips For The Secret Life Of A Gardener.

Deborah: How did you get interested in gardening? Did you have a green thumb, or did you have to really work at it?

Sheri: My grandmother grew roses and various flowers. Both grandfathers raised vegetables. My parents also had a garden. I hated gardening because I hated the spiders that lived in the strawberry patch my mother made me weed!

When I got my own place, my mother kept bringing me flats of impatiens. I planted them simply to make her feel better. Then, about a year before she died, I discovered herbs. Not only were they useful, but they were so fragrant. I fell in love with candy mint!

From there I looked for fragrant, unusual plants to grow. I have grown cloves, nutmeg, chocolate (Theobroma cacao) and everything in between including impatiens which I have grown to enjoy in the shade garden!

I must have a green thumb because most of what I grow thrives.

Deborah: What are you doing right now in your garden or greenhouse?

Sheri: I'm planting early season crops outside, under cover - sugar snap peas, spinach, cabbage, potatoes, radish, etc. We are re-doing the greenhouse and considering adding ponds under the benches to grow catfish. I am working really hard this year to grow enough food to live on as well as add more crops to the winter garden so there is more fresh produce year-round.

Deborah: What inspired you to start writing about gardening?

Sheri: I was given a greenhouse as a gift. I was sent all kinds of seeds from all over the world through people I met online. I was writing about Harley-Davidson motorcycles when I saw a post for freelance writers on Suite101. I applied to be a writer for a topic called Tropicals and Exotics. I figured I might as well write about a topic I was researching anyway. I was accepted. The topic has been retired, but I am still a writer with them.

Deborah: What do you say to people who don't have a green thumb?

Sheri: Anyone can garden! Most people make one of two mistakes - they either over-water or under-water. Once they learn how to properly water, properly fertilize and give the plant the right amount of light, they will be amazed at what they can do!

Thanks for joining us today, Sheri!

If anyone has any questions for Sheri, just holler. She's agreed to check in a few times today to respond. And if you'd like a copy of Sheri's newest book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Year-Round Gardening, just make a comment, and you'll be automatically entered. The deadline is midnight central time Sunday.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Life and death decisions

About three weeks ago, I noticed that Sterling the llama was very underweight. It can be tricky with fiber animals, because their fiber covers up their body so well. I happened to pet him while he was eating, and that's the only reason I knew he was having a problem. I brought him into the barn so I could monitor his food intake and pooping. I treated him for parasites and coccidia since his poop was sometimes pasty. He didn't improve. And a few days ago, I realized he was hardly eating his hay. I did a little research and took him down to the University of Illinois vet hospital yesterday. We learned that he has an abscessed tooth, which will cost $600-800 to remove.

Apparently, you can't just pull a tooth in the back of a llama's mouth. There's an access problem because their head is too long. The vet would have to go through the bottom of his jaw bone and push the tooth out of its socket and into his mouth. He'd have a hole there forever and could dribble saliva and stuff.

Is it worth it to spend that much on a 16 year old llama? He'll never produce that much fiber in the rest of his life, and he's a gelding, so he's not producing babies. From a strictly financial point of view, the answer is no. But I hate making decisions like this.

While driving home yesterday and thinking about this, a Miley Cyrus song came on the radio and I recalled a recent conversation with my daughter. She said she quit liking the singer after she heard that her father got mad at her when she spent tens of thousands of dollars on clothes one month. Now she's on a budget and can only spend a few thousand dollars a month on clothes. Maybe Miley Cyrus could give up a couple shirts or pair of pants and pay for my vet bills?

Sterling isn't the only animal that needs expensive vet care. There is also Trouper, the dog that someone dumped out here, who was then hit by a car. His broken pelvis has healed to the point that he can run again, but he has some kind of serious nerve damage, because he is completely incontinent. He dribbles all the time, and when he lays down, he makes a puddle. He also has no awareness of where his right rear leg is. He stops walking with it completely stretched out behind him, and sometimes he sits down with it twisted behind him. I've spent nearly $300 on this dog already, and he has not even been neutered or vaccinated. I'm hesitant to spend another hundred dollars in an attempt to get a diagnosis of a problem that I can't afford to fix.

He can't live in the house because of the incontinence, and he can't live outside because our livestock guardian has attacked him both times he's come in contact with him, even though they should be separated by fencing. The LGD is finding a way to get out. He hasn't escaped from the pasture in at least six months, so I'm sure he's doing it now because he perceives a threat. It took three of us to pull them apart the last time. What if there's a fight when only one person is home? Living in our barn office is no life for a dog.

And then there is the horse that was deserted here by his owner. He's been here on free pasture board almost from the beginning, and a couple years ago, after my daughter's horse died at the age of 30, I emailed the owner and asked if she'd like to take Merlot somewhere else, because he was lonely without other equine companionship. She sent me a very rude email saying that she couldn't afford to do anything with him, and if I was going to desert him, I should just have him put down. That was a decision I didn't want to make. But now, he's losing weight. I'm sure he needs to have his teeth floated, but that's at least $130, if they find nothing wrong with his teeth. But what if there is something else causing him to lose weight? What if he has other health problems? I know he has arthritis in his hock, which is so severe that the muscles in that hip started to atrophy a couple years ago. He also has EPM, which is a neurological problem that makes it impossible for him to be ridden, so he's not here for any reason, other than his owner deserted him, and I haven't had the courage to put him down or send him somewhere. I've heard the horse rescues are full anyway -- probably like the pit bull rescue that I contacted when we found the injured dog. What financially-strapped, over-worked rescue wants to take on an animal that they know has expensive health issues and will probably be unadoptable?

And that ignores the two cats that were dumped out here last summer. I wanted to get them neutered so that they'd stay here, safe in our barn, rather than venturing out looking for a girlfriend and getting eaten by coyotes. I haven't been able to get them fixed because of Trouper's vet bills.

It would cost thousands of dollars to take care of the vet bills of all five of these animals, four of which I never asked for. They were someone else's problem -- someone who was cowardly and irresponsible. I could never desert an animal and pretend that all is well.

But I do not have thousands of dollars to deal with all these problems. I don't want to see the llama and horse waste away. I don't want to see Trouper get killed by the LGD or live a lonely life in our barn office. I'm sick of seeing intact male cats fighting, and I hope I never again find the remains of a cat that was eaten by a coyote.

But I'm not rich enough to deal with other people's problems -- people who are blissfully ignorant of the pain and suffering of their former pets.

It boils down to some very uncomfortable, painful decisions for me, decisions I never wanted to make.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Goat classes on Saturday

For those of you who are in Illinois or nearby, I'm offering two goat classes Saturday.

Goats 101

10 a.m., Saturday, April 10, 2010

Learn the basics of keeping goats, whether as pets, for milk, or for meat. Most of this class will be held in the barn and pasture, as we discuss what goats need for housing, fencing, and nutrition. We’ll also talk about basic health care, including deworming. You’ll see first-hand how to administer medicine to goats and how to trim their hooves.

Goat Breeding and Birthing

1 p.m., Saturday, April 10, 2010

If you want milk, you have to breed your goats to freshen yearly. In this class, we'll talk about how to detect heat, pen breeding vs. hand breeding, nutritional requirements during pregnancy, signs of labor, and the birth process. Three goats are due around the date of this class, so you should get some hands-on experience in checking tail ligaments, assessing udders in relation to kidding time, seeing how the belly changes when a doe is close to kidding, and perhaps even seeing kids born, if timing is just right. (Does are due Thursday, Friday, and Saturday!) You will probably see newborn kids and learn to determine if a kid is polled. We'll talk about bottle-feeding vs. dam-raising kids and how to do each one. Castration, disbudding, and tattooing will also be covered.

Be sure to wear closed-toe shoes and long, well-worn pants or jeans. Be forewarned that our goats are very friendly and may jump on you like a dog, and their feet are not always clean. Both classes are free for anyone who is purchasing or has purchased a goat from Antiquity Oaks. Otherwise, each class is $15 per person or $25 per couple, children free with parent. If you want to attend both classes, bring a sack lunch to eat around noon. Even if you're only attending one class, you're welcome to join us. No doubt the conversation will revolve around goats! I'm hoping for nice weather so we can eat outside.

Send me an email (deborah at antiquity oaks dot com) to register. If you have questions, post in the comment section, since other people might have the same question.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spring has sprung

Historically, I don't post a lot in April, and I can see why. Ironically, when I have so much to write, I have no time to write it. This April will be no exception. In addition to all the farm chores, I also have nine lectures or speaking engagements. (Yes, they're all about sustainability and homesteading issues.)

I've been working in the garden. Jonathan, Margaret, and I got all the dead plants cleaned out from last year. Mike tilled a wide row, so I could transplant 20 broccoli plants, 15 green cabbages, 5 red cabbages, and 10 Brussels sprouts. I also planted seeds for lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and arugula, my new favorite green. He also tilled another area where we'll put tomatoes, covered by a little greenhouse. I'll tell you more about that later. It's one of my spring experiments this year. My other spring experiment involves chickens, and I'll be writing more about that soon.

Jonathan has been cleaning out stalls in the barn. We had a really bad idea this year. We kept some of the goats in the barn all winter. We won't be doing that again. It was because of the cows, but that's a post for another day.

Maple syrup season is over. Now I understand why Illinois is not famous for maple syrup. It is not lack of trees. It is because our spring is so short. You need freezing nights and sunny days for sap to run, and that happened for one weekend this year. We made nine quarts of syrup that weekend. Then the days and nights grew too warm, and the sap quit running. We had two separate days when the sap did run again, and we were able to make three more pints of syrup. So, our tally for 2010 is 10.5 quarts of maple syrup. We're quite proud of ourselves. This was our first year, after all.

Mike has been behind the eight ball ever since he started making those kidding pens in February. He has been only a few days ahead of each new doe that is going to kid, and he was there again until today. Andi and Cinderella need to be moved into a nursery pen, so we can get their kidding pens cleaned out for three goats that are due next week. He finished the last pen this afternoon, so I need to get out there, get it bedded with straw, and start moving goats.

My soap inventory is lower than it has ever been -- I only have four fragrances -- so I need to make at least six batches of soap. Unfortunately, one of my molds is missing. Where could a soap mold go? Seriously! It's not as if someone would have stolen it. Most people wouldn't even know what it was. And it is almost three feet long, so it would not be easy to misplace.

And in the midst of all this, three goats are going to kid next week.


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