Monday, May 31, 2010


Although I'm usually writing about lessons learned on the farm, today's lesson is something that we always knew when we lived in the suburbs, but somehow we forgot it after eight years out here. Even when I was a little girl, my mother always said that if I ever saw a dog or cat that looked ill or injured, I should leave it alone. But after years of dealing with our own veterinary problems on the farm, seeing an injured, sick cat does not seem like big deal. It is.

Last night after finishing our milk test at 9-something, Katherine was checking out a cat that looked injured and sick. Suddenly it whipped its head around and bit her arm. The first thing that went through my head was that the cat was not vaccinated for rabies, so we took Katherine to the emergency room. The doctor asked about the cat that bit her, and as Mike and I described the cat's condition, the doctor's demeanor became more serious, and we felt dumber and dumber.

He had mustard-like diarrhea and was incontinent. He was dragging his tail, and had visible injuries. The doctor asked how he was walking. I said, "Slowly."

"Was he staggering?" she asked.

"I don't think so."

It was obvious the cat had recently been in a fight. It could have been fighting with another cat, or it could have been fighting with a rabid bat or skunk.

The doctor began to describe the prognosis for rabies. There is no cure for rabies. She said she was aware of one person who survived rabies, and it was after several months in a coma. Based upon the cat's condition, we should start rabies treatment immediately, especially since there was a chance that we might never find the cat and be able to have it tested for rabies.

Katherine looked nervous. I asked her what she wanted to do, and she nodded, saying "Go for it."

I nodded and said, "Yeah, that's what I was thinking, too."

 The good news is that the rabies vaccine is no longer the painful, sickening series of injections into the abdomen that it was 40 years ago. The bad news is that treatment involves more than the vaccine. Katherine received her first rabies vaccine in her left arm, and she said, "Oh, that wasn't bad."

The nurse said she would be back with the immune globulin. She returned with four little bottles. Each one contained two ccs. The contents of one bottle was injected in multiple pokes around the first puncture wound. I lost count of the pokes, but it was more than a dozen. Katherine began to tear up around the sixth or seventh poke, which was when I forgot about counting. The nurse told her she was tough and apologized for having to poke her so many times. After the first bottle was emptied around the first puncture, the nurse filled the syringe with the contents of another bottle for the second puncture wound. She repeated the injections around that wound, while I rubbed Katherine's back and held her hand and tried to take her mind off of it by making jokes.

"Hey, when you go to Wyoming on the biology trip this summer, you'll be able to fight off the wild bears and wolves, since you're vaccinated for rabies now!"

Katherine chuckled through her tears. The nurse said, "Oh, you're going to Wyoming? Where are you going?"

Our efforts to take her mind off the injections were futile. After responding, "Grand Tetons," which was only a partial answer, she complained about how much the injections hurt.

After emptying the second bottle, the nurse said the rest -- 4 ccs -- needed to go in Katherine's hip.

Finally, at 1:30 a.m., we were headed home. We talked about all the cats that are around farms because people dump them in the country when they no longer want them. We have become comfortable with animals that would have sent us scurrying in the other directions eight or nine years ago. Although we only have six or seven cats that come around here regularly, the neighbor has more than 20. I'm sure they feel just as comfortable with stray cats as we do.

It never occurred to us that any of the cats would bite one of us. They don't seem mean. But when an animal is injured or sick, its personality can change drastically -- as everyone's mother has preached. Even I used to say that when we lived in the suburbs! But in the burbs, how often did we see a stray cat? And they certainly did not hang around or come and go for months. There is one cat who sticks around for a few days and disappears for weeks. No one out here gets the cats fixed or vaccinated, because you could spend hundreds of dollars a year on them, and most don't survive a year. They're usually eaten by coyotes or raccoons as soon as they reach sexual maturity and start wandering, looking for a mate. Unfixed males fight viscously with each other.

It seemed that the humane thing to do was feed them, since it didn't cost much, and it kept them out of the woods hunting for wild birds, squirrels, voles, and other little animals to eat. But doing more than that seemed like a foolish waste of money. Now it seems that we only have two responsible choices -- either vaccinate every cat around here for rabies, or call Animal Control and have them picked up.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Goat fun

How does a former show goat spend her days? Carmen, who has earned her master championship with the American Goat Society now spends her days around the pond with her kids. On Wednesday, she decided to go into the pond -- yes, she is standing in water (and algae) up to her belly -- to get more of the willow leaves. It was quite a surprise to discover her standing in water, because when it rains, the goats all start screaming and running for shelter as if they are going to melt.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rattlesnakes for lunch -- beans, that is

You might recall that last summer we grew rattlesnake beans in the garden. I read that they make excellent green beans, as well as dried beans. So, last summer we enjoyed plenty of fresh green bean dishes, and once the beans started getting stringy and tough, we just ignored them until November when we picked them, shelled them, and let them dry.

On first glance, you might think they're pintos, but they're not. Pintos have a lighter background and are smaller. Once these are cooked, they are the size and color of a cooked kidney bean, although the texture is somewhere between a kidney and a pinto bean. They're not as soft as a pinto bean, but not as firm as a kidney bean.

Yesterday I decided to make chili for lunch, and we used the rattlesnake beans instead of pintos or kidney beans. Everyone loved them, and I told Mike we need to plant a lot more this year!

For more on last year's green beans, you can check out this post.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chicken for dinner? Part 2

We are eight weeks into the chicken experiment, and it's time to start butchering the Cornish Cross chickens. We actually should have started sooner, because one dropped dead a few days ago.  Those that are still alive do nothing but sit in front of the feeder and eat. Their exercise consists of walking to the waterer for a drink, then walking back to the feeder. The heritage chickens (pictured above) won't be big enough to butcher for another six weeks. (If you missed the original post about my little experiment, you can find it here.) We wanted something to compare the CC chicken, so Mike butchered a year-old heritage rooster.

The CC weighed 5 pounds, 11.7 ounces at only eight weeks of age. (It's the one on the right, but you probably figured that out already.)

The heritage rooster weighed 4 pounds, 2.7 ounces at a year of age.

The breast alone on the CC weighed 2 pounds, 4 ounces. Normally, Jonathan eats a breast, and I eat one, but tonight I cut off about a fourth of a breast for my dinner. We cooked it using a favorite recipe -- pineapple chicken.

The verdict -- blah. When they've done blind taste tests, people usually describe the CC as tasteless and mushy. I definitely agree with the tasteless part, but I'd describe the texture more as rubbery, rather than mushy. I didn't even finish my portion. It was sadly uninspiring. If I ever want to lose weight, this would be the food to include in my diet. Normally I "mmmm" and "ooooh" during dinner, but not tonight. It was sad.

Another interesting observation -- the legs on the heritage chicken were much more reddish-purple. The legs on the CC were almost as pale as the breast meat. Jonathan even said that the thigh tasted very similar to the breast. I actually preferred the thigh -- it tasted like something, which is more than I can say for the breast meat, which was completely blah. I wonder if the lack of exercise is what causes the legs to look like breast meat? Perhaps well-developed muscles are redder?

The really disturbing part of our little experiment, however, was this --

I was looking at the things Mike pulled out of the chickens, and I saw this big pickle-looking thing. Having been diagnosed (incorrectly) with a gall bladder problem a few years ago, I knew exactly what it was. I quickly realized, however, that I had never seen a chicken's gall bladder. I asked Mike where was the gall bladder from the heritage chicken. He looked for a few seconds and finally found it. I had never noticed one before today because it is tiny. I wanted to weigh the two gall bladders, but the heritage chicken's gall bladder was too small for my scale to weigh. Visually, I'd say the CC gall bladder was about six times as large. It looked like an over-filled balloon ready to pop -- and it did rupture a little later just sitting on the plate. I wonder if a ruptured gall bladder is what caused that CC chicken to die a few days ago? The gall bladder produces bile for digesting fat, and if a chicken is eating more, it needs to digest more, which could explain why the gall bladder is so large. It's overworked.

The liver on the heritage chicken was also about half the size of the CC's liver. I have no idea why the liver would be so large, but it makes me think that even though we are raising the CC exactly the same as the heritage chickens, they are not as healthy. The heritage liver is also much more red, which usually means higher in iron. It would be fascinating to compare the nutritional value of the two different birds, but that is beyond my abilities. I just can't believe that such a pale liver has as much nutrition as the bright red liver.

Katherine is taking biology this year in college, and she needs an independent honors project. As we were talking today about the differences between these two chickens, she decided to ask her professor if she can do an experiment comparing the different chickens. She would start over with new chicks and keep track of every ounce they consume, and then dissect them, and weigh and measure the organs. It sounded like a good idea this afternoon before I had actually eaten the chicken. Now that I have had the most disappointing culinary experience since eating at a greasy spoon in the middle of nowhere, I am wondering what we will do with the four mutant chickens we have left. I am not crazy about the idea of ever raising them again, even in the name of science. After all, if we raise them, someone should eat them.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wascally wabbits!

At the end of March, I transplanted 50 cole crops that I had started from seed in the basement. There were 20 broccoli plants, 15 green cabbages, 5 red cabbages, and 10 Brussels sprouts. A week later, there were zero. The plants had been eaten down to the dirt. I had planted Swiss chard seeds, and just as I started to get excited about them coming up, they were gone. By then, I realized we had some sort of hungry vegetarian thief in the garden, but I wasn't completely sure what. Did we need a taller fence to keep out deer, or did we need to dig into the ground to stop rabbits? Finding no droppings left me with little information on which to base my decision.

Then I sat a flat of 50 pepper plants in a raised bed. I thought they'd be safe. The bed is a foot high. But the next day, half of the plants were gone. A couple people on Facebook suggested moles or rats. We had rats eat plants when we started them in the pump room a few years ago. So, we never did that again.

The peas that we planted at the end of March were about three inches tall when they were murdered. Luckily we hadn't weeded lately, so the leaves under weeds survived, but I don't know if we'll have peas at this point. Will the stress of losing most of their leaves (but not all) be enough to kill the pea plants?

We planted several tomato plants and put cages around them made with rabbit wire. One of the cages did not sit perfectly flat on the ground (and we couldn't make it sit flat) -- and the next day the cage was moved, and the tomato plant was gone.

We ultimately decided that rabbits were the culprits because we never saw any deer tracks. A deer walking on freshly tilled earth during or after a rain would leave tracks, so we ruled out deer, and we started planning a rabbit-proof fence.

Mike is digging down next to the existing fence, and he and Jonathan are burying chicken wire, so that rabbits can't go under the fence. We don't think the rabbits had to dig to get into the garden, because there were some dips in the dirt under the fence where a rabbit could have easily squeezed in or out. However, we didn't want to simply eliminate those weaknesses, only to have the rabbits start digging, since they already know what a wonderful buffet we have inside the fence. Mike and Jonathan started working on this last week, and then it started raining on Friday.

Sunday I was planning to put out more pepper and tomato transplants while Mike continued to work on the fence. Then I saw that every last leek was gone! And if you've ever grown leeks, you know how long they take to grow! I started them inside in January, and they currently look like cocktail straws. Yeah, they're small. The rows of beets were also completely barren, and many of them had already sprouted. That's when I decided to head back inside. I vowed not to plant another seed or transplant until the reinforced rabbit fence is in place.

Then last night I went to get some turnip greens for dinner. The only things the rabbits don't eat are turnip greens, radishes, and green onions -- or so I thought. When I went to get the turnips last night, I discovered that the rabbits had developed a taste for radish greens. With their leaves all gone, the radishes would have rotted in the ground, so I pulled up every one that I could find.

The rabbits have eaten so many plants -- they would have produced at least a hundred pounds of vegetables -- that I am not a happy gardener. Hopefully Mike will finish the fence today or tomorrow, and we'll be able to finish planting.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Yesterday's temperature was 17 degrees above normal, and I was wiped out before noon. I kept trying to get back outside all day, but I just did not have the energy. Spring came early to Illinois, and the temperatures never returned to normal. All of our perennials are two weeks ahead of schedule.

It looks like summer is arriving even earlier because yesterday's temperature hit 93 F. Turkeys are walking around with their wings held away from their body. All the animals are panting like dogs -- like the poor goat kid in the picture. The humans are sweating. And temperatures will be in the upper 80s and 90s for the rest of the week.

We do our best to adjust. We don't have central air conditioning, because we couldn't find a system that was not an energy hog when we started building the house six years ago. We have an attic fan, so as long as the temperature falls into the 60s at night, we can use that fan to pull in the cold air from outside overnight. We close all the windows in the morning to trap the cold air inside with the help of insulated window shades, which also keeps the sun out. If it gets too hot in here, we can always retreat to the basement, which stays naturally cool.

We try to do chores as early as we can drag ourselves out of bed, which is not as early as you might think. We're not crack-o-dawn farmers, however, if the temperatures get much higher, we will be. We get all the animals out of the barns, which will be up to 10 degrees hotter than the outside temperatures. I really don't like metal barns, because they're hotter in summer and colder in winter.  Too bad we couldn't find a farm with big, old wooden barns. In the middle of the day, we make sure everyone has plenty of water. Then we hibernate inside until a couple hours before sundown when the temperatures start to fall again. Or at least, that's what I do. Mike makes me feel like the ultimate wimp in all of this. He is out there working hard and sweating profusely all day. At the moment, he is scything and digging into the dirt around the perimeter of the garden, so that he can bury a rabbit-proof fence. (That's a post for tomorrow or the next day.)

We're having cold breakfasts, like yogurt and granola, and lunch is cold left-overs, salads, or a cold sandwich spread like hummus.  Dinner is cooked around 8 p.m., so that the temperatures are starting to drop, and we'll be able to open windows again and turn on the attic fan, which will pull the cold night air back into the house. Then we'll start over again in the morning.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lizzie's triplets

Margaret arrived home from college on Thursday when Katherine and I were gone. As we pulled into the driveway upon our arrival back home, we saw Margaret running into the kidding barn. Katherine stopped the car at the end of the driveway where Jonathan was mowing the yard. As I rolled down the window, he called, "Lizzie is in labor!"

Katherine pulled forward and stopped the car. We ran into the house. "I have to change clothes," I hollered as I was running upstairs. I was not going to attend a goat birth wearing beige pants. Jonathan yelled that Margaret needed towels.

When I entered the kidding barn a few minutes later, wearing farm clothes and carrying a stack of goat towels, Margaret and I started talking about the end of her semester and what had been happening on the farm lately. Katherine gave the bottle brats their afternoon bottle and went back to the house to get her new camera to take pictures of the birth.

The three of us sat in the pen with Lizzie as she screamed during contractions, sometimes nearly rolling onto her back. She would lean against one of us, then stand up and move to another person for the next contraction.

"Shouldn't we have seen some progress by now?" I don't remember who was the first to voice a concern, but we all agreed that we should be seeing something by now. Margaret looked at her watch. Half an hour had passed since Lizzie started screaming through contractions, and her back end was completely unchanged. There was no bulging, no thinning skin, and definitely no sign of a nose or hoof. One of the girls said, "Someone needs to stick a finger in there and see what's up."

I remember a time when the two of them would fight over whose turn it was to deliver a goat's babies. Now it was obvious that "someone" meant me. "Okay, fine, I'll go get gloves."

I squirted iodine on the glove and attempted to figure out what was where. The first thing I felt was a joint with two thin bones attached to it, but then it was gone. "That felt like a hock, but it can't be a hock." Okay, yes, I know it could have been a hock, but I really did not want it to be a hock. It is amazing how much a nose and a goat's butt can feel similar when you can't see them. I convinced myself it was a nose, and since it was still three inches inside the goat, I had nothing to grab easily, so I decided to wait a few more minutes.

The girls and I continued talking, and 20 minutes later, someone commented that there was still no visible change, although Lizzie was getting tired. Her body felt hot and sweaty. I checked again to find that the kid was in exactly the same place as it had been 20 minutes earlier. I realized that I'd have to put my whole hand inside her to be able to grab the kid and pull it out, so I went to the other barn to get the kidding box.

The kidding box is a plastic tool box that we rarely need. It contains the emergency stuff -- the kid puller, the shoulder-length gloves, the bulb syringe, and stuff like that. The shoulder-length gloves have been in there for six or seven years, and Margaret used one five years ago. That is how seldom these goats have problems with kidding.

As I pulled the giant glove over my hand and up to my shoulder, I said, "These things are made for men pulling calves." And one of the girls said, "They're made for fat men." I laughed.

Saying that I put my hand inside her and pulled the kid out makes it sound so easy. It wasn't easy -- not for me and certainly not for Lizzie. In addition to being breech, it was also posterior, meaning that it was butt first and instead of the kid's spine being against the mama's spine, it was the other way around. Once the kid was out, I started wiping off the mucous. I felt no movement beneath my hands. Someone asked, "Is it alive?"

I shook my head and said, "I don't think so." Lizzie was already pushing to birth another kid, so I handed the kid to Margaret and said, "Here, keep working on him. Rub him like this." I demonstrated by rubbing briskly up and down his body, even though Margaret has delivered plenty of goats on her own.

"He's alive! I felt him move!" Margaret said. "He's trying to breathe, but he's mucousy. Where's the sucker thingy?" Lizzie's contraction had ended, so I pulled the bulb syringe out of the kidding box and started to suction the kid's throat and nose. He was very mucousy. After I'd suctioned his nostrils and throat several times each, Lizzie started another contraction, so I handed the bulb syringe to Margaret and turned back to Lizzie just in time to catch the second baby. As he wiggled and kicked and bobbed his head up and down, I realized the first kid was still quite weak. As soon as I had the nose clean, I placed the second kid next to Lizzie, so she could start cleaning him up.

A couple minutes later, the third kid flew out like a torpedo, and the moment I had cleaned her nose and mouth, she was kicking and screaming. "That's what I like to hear!" I laughed. Within ten minutes, she was hoisting her back end up in the air and trying to stand. Kid number two followed suit. In little time, the two of them were wobbling around and bopping on Lizzie's chin, looking for dinner. When Lizzie stood, the little doe was nursing before we even realized she was trying.

We gave the first kid 3 ccs of NutriDrench about 30 minutes after he was born, because he still was not holding up his head. It's mostly molasses, so it gives them a little energy. An hour after he was born, the first kid finally stood. We went into the house for dinner, and when we came back afterwards, he was nursing. The next morning, he was still doing great.

I'd like to say that everyone lived happily ever after, but Sunday morning, the white buckling was dead. He was the second one born, so we are all wondering what happened to him. He looked like he was sleeping peacefully. It's been a few years since we've had a newborn die unexpectedly like that, so I guess it's just one of those weird things that happens. Lizzie's udder was quite full that morning, so it's obvious that her supply had already increased to meet the demand of three hungry kids.

This is our last kidding until the end of August or early September. Although I love newborn goats, it is time to start focusing on the garden and making cheese. I will keep you updated on the progress of the kids!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Coming next year: calves!

After many months of looking, we finally have a bullfriend for Molly and Bridget the Irish Dexter heifers. As you know, Bridget has been screaming like crazy every 21 days because like most adolescents, she thinks she needs a boyfriend. I've tried to explain to her that she's too young for such things, but you know teenagers. She doesn't listen!

I really did not think my requirements were that tough, but it took months to find a bull that satisfied me. All I wanted was, #1, a bull that was polled, meaning that he was born without the ability to grow horns. Personally, I don't want to have a testosterone-crazed male with two daggers on his head running around my farm. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. I know my limitations, and if I was an adrenaline junkie, I'd be getting paid as a bull rider in rodeos.

I also wanted a bull that was friendly and had been handled. We'll be sharing him with another farm, so he needs to be halter trained so we can get him on and off a trailer twice a year without feeling like we're in a rodeo.

Finally, I wanted a bull that tested negative for two genetic problems that can be found in Irish dexters -- PHA and chondro. I won't bore you with the details, but they can both result in abortions or dead calves, so why take that risk, right?

I was thrilled to finally find Jaxon. He'll be a year old in July, and he was born on a farm in Iowa where they have ten Irish dexter milk cows. Jaxon was tied up every morning while his mother was being milked for the first four months of his life, so he is well acquainted with how a lead rope works. He is extremely friendly. Today I introduced him to alfalfa cubes, and now he thinks my hands are made of alfalfa, and he sticks out his big, long tongue, and tries to pull my hand into his mouth when he sees me! Okay, we'll have to work on that, but it's not a big problem.

We don't want any February calves, so Jaxon can't stay with the girls just yet. Molly was certainly acting like she was in heat when we brought him home. We thought we'd hide him in the barn, but Molly started mooing, and he mooed back, so it's not much of a secret. The due date for calves would have been February 14, which is still a lot colder than I want for calving, so we're waiting until their next heat cycle to breed them.

And if you are really wondering why we don't want a bull with horns, just look at this picture -- Would you want a bull with horns?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sherri's triplets (for the sixth time)

Sherri is seven years old, and she came to live here as a yearling. Her breeder said not to worry about kidding difficulties. As a yearling, Sherri kidded in the pasture with triplets while her owner was preparing a kidding pen for her. Well, "don't worry" is subjective. It kind of depends on what you want to worry about. I do not have to worry that she'll have any sort of dystocia issues. Her pelvis is big enough for a Mack truck to go through at top speed. However, there are things to worry about.

As a two-year-old here, we thought she was in labor for two days, and we kept her in the barn. Then I finally decided that we had no clue what was happening, so we let her go out into the pasture. About 15 minutes later, my son reported that there were three kids in the pasture with her, and one wasn't looking good. When I got there, I thought it was dead, but my daughter insisted it was alive. We brought the tiny doeling into the house and put her in a sink of warm water, because she was ice cold and clearly suffering from hypothermia. She finally snapped back into the world, and she grew up to be a fine doeling. I, however, am still traumatized by the experience five years later. Sherri gives birth too efficiently -- so easily that she doesn't have time to clean off the three or four kids that she always births.

Every year, Sherri makes me think she's going to kid "any minute now" for about two days. This year (as in years past), I thought that I was older, smarter, wiser, and I'd know. Right? Wrong! For two days, I kept thinking that she was going to kid soon. Although she didn't act like she was in labor, her belly was hollowed out between her ribs and hips on Saturday, and her ligaments were so soft that they could be gone any minute. Her udder didn't look like it was ready to explode, but there's a little wiggle room in that particular criteria. On Sunday, we had tickets to a Broadway play in Chicago, and I tried to explain the situation to Sherri, but she looked at me like I was nuts. "Could you please have your kids now? Within the next hour?" Nope. Katherine stayed home on kid watch. Even though Sherri wasn't showing signs of labor, she can go from 0 to 3 kids in about 20 seconds. So Katherine waited . . . and watched . . . and waited . . . and watched . . . and you get the idea. Sherri did not kid Sunday while we were at the play.

Monday morning, the ligaments were gone, so I knew it would be soon. But the thing about Sherri is that she is the most stoic goat in the world. She makes NO sound until the kid is actually being born -- as in, the kid is shooting out at that moment. This is not a big deal for Shetland sheep people, because practically all Shetlands are quiet as a lamb when giving birth, but most goats are kind of wimpy and loud.

Logic and science not being on my side, I decided to appeal to Murphy's Law to get Sherri to go into labor. I told Katherine that I was going to make some bran muffins. I figured that I'd be in the middle of making muffins when Sherri would start to give birth, because that would be really inconvenient. I mixed up the muffins, peeled and diced an apple, put the muffin batter in the oven, and still no sound from the kidding barn. Fine! I'll have lunch! I heated up some left-over tamale pie that we'd had for dinner the night before, and I sat down. I took a bite . . . and, "Maaaaaaaa!" came over the baby monitor. Katherine looked at me and laughed as I said with a mouthful of food, "ONE bite!"

"I'll check on her." Katherine said. A moment later, as I was in the middle of my second bite, I heard her scream over the monitor, "Baby!"

With my mouth full of tamale pie, I pulled off my reading glasses and dropped them on the table, dashed to the front door, pulled on my shoes and ran across the yard towards the barn. (Note: Chewing and running are really not compatible activities. Do NOT try this at home!) I arrived at the kidding barn as I was swallowing my tamale pie, trying not to inhale anything and choke.

Katherine was laughing about Sherri's impeccable timing, and I suggested that she retrieve her brand new camera from the house so that we could get pictures. (She's been saving her money for months to buy a fancy DSLR camera.) She took my advice and then proceeded to take more than 100 photographs of the birth. They're truly amazing, and I'm trying to talk her into making a slide show for us! (Hint: If you want to see it, and enough people ask in the comment section, maybe she'll do it!)

Sherri took an unusually long amount of time between kids this year. For her, that means we were able to get each one dried off before the next one was born. It was really fun compared to most years where she is spitting them out faster than we can dry them or even check the gender of each kid.

The first two kids were does, and then she had a buck, which is pretty cool, because that is exactly what was reserved from her. So, yes, that means that all these sweet little darlings are going to another farm to live. But that's okay, because this was a repeat breeding of the one that produced Jo, whom I dearly love. She fed triplets last year as a first freshener, so she's an awesome little milker.

Back at the ranch, uh, house, the timer on the oven was going off. Luckily, Jonathan was still inside, and he knew it was for the muffins, so he pulled them out of the oven. No one, however, knew that I had put my big tomato plants out on the deck for their hardening off time (including the beautiful green zebra I wrote about yesterday). When I came back inside an hour later and saw them out there, they were only a little wilted, and I pulled them inside immediately.

If you want to see some of the pictures of Sherri's actual birth, I've created a photo album on the Antiquity Oaks Facebook page, so you can check it out. Warning: They are not for the faint of heart, as they do contains things like blood, amniotic sacs, and other bodily fluids and tissues.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tomatoes in May in Illinois?

If you ask for tomatoes in May at a local farmers market in Illinois, the response will be somewhere between laughter and a simple no. The ground doesn't get warm enough here for tomato plants to bloom until July at the earliest, sometimes August. But being the stubborn person that I am, I decided to attempt to fool Mother Nature. I started some tomato seeds in January in my basement. I used fluorescent lights and grow mats. And I was successful. It was too successful in some ways. I had more little plants than I had large pots for them to be transplanted.

My first tomatoes started to grow on a Japanese plum variety, but they quickly began to show signs of blossom end rot. Then the green zebras bloomed, and I hand pollinated them (referred to as "tomato sex" by my children and AI by another family member). The first four zebras are rapidly approaching ripeness. The lighter green stripes will turn yellow when ripe, and the darker green stripes will stay green -- hence the name, green zebra. They'll be about four ounces when mature, or the size of a large egg. They're one of my favorite tomatoes, and they make an excellent quiche with goat cheese!

The rest of the tomato plants are still hanging out in the greenhouse, not looking so great. Hope they survive after transplanting. I'm currently working on hardening off the potted tomato plants so they can spend the summer on the deck, and when fall comes, I can bring them back inside to extend the harvest into winter!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Post #600

And now we take a break from our regularly scheduled programming . . .

Here I am at 600 posts and still writing after four years and four months. I suppose it is some sort of landmark, but for me, being on Antiquity Oaks for eight years is more of an accomplishment. I've always been a writer. Friends from high school and college who have reconnected with  me on Facebook are seldom surprised that I became a journalist. Like many writers, I've been writing my entire life. I can't stop writing any easier than Lance Armstrong could stop cycling or Madonna could stop singing. I won't bore you by reciting my whole resume, but if you really want to know more, I have a website for my writing.

When I was a newspaper reporter, I wrote about all sorts of things. I once covered a murder-for-hire trial, which was fascinating, and I covered the home office of Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, which was always interesting. I did a lot of health stories for magazines and newspapers, which took me into operating rooms, so maybe that's why it isn't too difficult to deal with the veterinary challenges on the farm. But of all the things I've written, I love writing about Antiquity Oaks the most. It was fun to sit on the sidelines and talk to people doing things, but it is even more fun to find yourself in the middle of the action.

It has been a shock for old friends to discover my new lifestyle. It's 180 degrees from what I did 20 or 30 years ago. Back then, I would max out credit cards buying clothes. Today -- if I were still so irresponsible -- I'd max out a credit card at Tractor Supply. Although a lot about me has changed, one thing has not. I still love to write. So, while a lot of people start blogs and forget to post and eventually forgot about the blog entirely, this blog has become as much a part of me as my house and my animals. I hope you enjoy reading my stories as much as I enjoy writing them, because I will be sticking around for a long time.

Today's photo was taken by Katherine with her new camera. I was giving Eleanor her bottle when she jerked her head down and popped her mouth off the nipple, and the milk went splattering. Katherine had her finger on the trigger and snapped the picture just at that moment.

Tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that, I'll be back giving you updates on everything happening around here: Sherri's new triplets, the green zebra tomatoes growing in my dining room, Linguine's progress, and more. If there is ever anything you want to hear about, don't be shy about leaving a comment.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Annie Oakley's other kids

I suppose it's normal that when one child in the family has a problem, the rest of them get ignored. So, I have to apologize to Annie Oakley's adorable kids who happen to be perfectly normal. After all, we don't want them to get an inferiority complex and start acting out and doing things that are socially unacceptable to get attention. As I mentioned briefly last week, the big boy was born first and weighed a whopping four pounds, which was probably why Annie hardly noticed that the little 1.5 pound boy was being born and didn't push hard enough to get his head out. (There I go again talking about Linguine!) So, this adorable big boy was already born and wobbling around when Katherine went into the pasture to deliver Linguine.

And then this cute little girl was born. She weighed 2.5 pounds, but still looked small next to her big brother.

She is camera shy and kept trying to hide behind her brother. Finally got a picture of her when she decided to nurse.

(Yes, I'll give you an update on Linguine in a couple days.)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Cicada's triplet bucklings

We were batting a thousand last weekend as we missed all three births. Cicada freshened Sunday in the early afternoon with triplet bucks.
They're almost a week old now, and they're not holding their ears up with any regularity.
In fact, most of the time, their ears are seriously floppy. Since Cicada is a first freshener, the little guys were destined to be sold as pets anyway, so I'm not terribly upset by the ears, which would be a disqualification in the show ring.
I'm glad they're bucks, because someone will probably think those ears are really cute. Hey, I do! They just don't match the score card, which says Nigerians should have erect ears.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Ethel Merman's doeling

Last weekend we had three does kid in three days. Annie Oakley was first on Friday with triplets. I told you a little about that a couple days ago, and I'll be writing more about it soon, because Linguine is definitely blind. But for today, I thought I should put another little darling in the spotlight.

Ethel Merman freshened on Saturday with one very large doeling. Beautiful color, eh? We don't usually get kids this colorful, but I guess I have Draco to thank for last weekend's bunch of wildly colorful babies.

The birth was quite uneventful. Jonathan went into the barn and heard the squeal of a newborn kid. He looked into the stall and saw this little cutie already wobbling around on unsteady legs. Did I already mention that I hate pen breeding? Instead of having a one-week window, you have a one-month window, and it is so easy to miss a birth. That's why I refuse to pen breed for winter kiddings. Hypothermia is too much of a risk in the middle of winter. When it's warm out, there usually aren't any problems, but then you have a situation like Linguine, and you realize just how fragile the whole process can be. So, we're excited that this little girl made it with no problems. Kudos to Ethel for doing a great job -- and it was her first time!

Now for a name -- Betty Davis? Greta Garbo? There are just so many great names of old movie stars.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Potato planting

Years ago, I read an article that said not to bother growing potatoes. They take up too much room in the garden, and they're the cheapest thing in the produce section of the grocery store anyway, so don't waste your time. That was before I learned that potatoes are sprayed more than a dozen times during the growing season with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers. Now I buy nothing but organic potatoes, or we grow our own. Even organic potatoes are cheap, so we don't bother growing anything that we can buy at the store. But with so many potatoes from which to choose, it's easy to pick a few special potatoes every year to grow in the garden.

This year, I chose All Blue (pictured at the top), All Red (also known as Cranberry), Purple Viking (white inside), and French Fingerling (below). We've grown the blue potatoes before, but the rest of them will be new for us this year.

My favorite is the French Fingerling, because of the spider web design in the middle when you cut it open.

I ordered the potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa. If it grows there, it should grow in Illinois. Whole potatoes arrived last week, and I cut them up into sets on Saturday morning. Each piece should be larger than a golf ball and have at least two eyes on it. Then you have to wait 24 hours for the cuts to heal up before planting, so Mike and I spent Sunday afternoon planting. Now the hard part -- waiting! Yeah, watering and weeding are work, but waiting is harder.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A blind kid?

If any post needs photos, this one does -- maybe even a video -- so I'm sorry I haven't had time to get them uploaded, cropped, and edited. The past few days have been crazy. We've been gardening, scything fresh grass for the mama goats in the barn, and dealing with three goats who freshened. I know I need to update you on all of this in the next few days! Although we did not spend hours with the mama goats in labor, because all three of them surprised us, we have been spending a fair amount of time with one of the kids.

He was born on Friday to Annie Oakley, along with a very big brother and sister. He was only 1.5 pounds at birth, but let's take a couple steps back in time. Jonathan had left a gate open, and the horses were out in the road. Katherine had just put them back where they belong, and as she was walking past the pregnant doe pasture, she saw Annie walking along with a kid's body swinging behind her. Yes, the kid was swinging by its neck from her back end.

The kid's head was still inside. Katherine climbed over the wood section of the fence, screaming for someone to come help as she ran to Annie, grabbed the kid and pulled it out, which was quite easy since it was so small. There was a huge kid stumbling around the pasture already, so we're thinking that Annie didn't realize this little sprite of a kid was even being born. After giving birth to a 4-pound kid, she probably wasn't pushing much to birth the 1.5 pound kid, and he didn't weigh enough for gravity to help, even though Annie was walking around.

When she pulled him out, Katherine thought he was dead, because he wasn't responsive, but after she rubbed his body a little, he started sneezing and moving. Twenty minutes later, a third kid was born, a doe that weighed 2.5 pounds. Katherine and Mike moved them into the barn, where the big buck and the doe did what kids do -- they stood on wobbly legs and started staggering towards their mama and nursing. The little kid never stood. After an hour, Katherine decided to bring him into the house for a bottle.

He didn't stand for 24 hours, so bringing him inside was the right call. If a kid can't stand, they can't nurse, so he would have starved. He wasn't doing a very good job holding his head up, and when I called him NoodleNeck, Katherine decided that Linguine would be a good name for him. He didn't attempt to walk until yesterday, which was when he was two days old, but things got really weird this morning. The little guy has been sleeping in a box in Katherine's room. This morning, she put him on the bed with her, and he tried to walk right off the edge of the bed several times. It was as if he didn't see where he was going.

"Mom, I think this kid is blind," Katherine said this morning.

Throughout the day, we've been coming up with test after test to see if Linguine can see. If we put him on the floor, he walks into furniture and walls. If we put him on a couch or bed, he walks right off the edge as if he doesn't know it's there. (Of course, we catch him.) We flick our fingers at his eyes, and he doesn't blink. When Katherine puts the bottle in front of his face, he does nothing. As soon as she touches his lips, he grabs the nipple.

Of course, my first assumption was that we were simply being paranoid. Why would he be blind? He looked perfectly normal and was acting healthy. Then I remembered his birth. How long had he been hanging from Annie's back end? I asked Katherine if the umbilical cord was already broken when his head was trapped inside his mother. Yes, the cord had been severed, which meant he wasn't getting any oxygen until she pulled him out. I googled "oxygen deprivation" and blindness. Yes, oxygen deprivation at birth can cause blindness, deafness, and all sorts of mental and cognitive problems in children, so why not goats?

Now, the question is, what do you do with a blind goat?


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