Monday, January 31, 2011

Five years of blogging!

I can't believe it all started five years ago with this sad little post. I've come a long way in five years with the blog and the farm. Having this blog has helped me both as a writer and as a homesteader.

2007: Princess, my bottle lamb who was later eaten by coyotes
Over the past five years, this blog has really helped me develop my voice -- that thing that writing instructors and publishers and critics talk about. It's the thing that makes my writing different from another writer. It is not something that can be taught. Your voice is what it is. Unfortunately, I think that finding a voice is sometimes harder for those of us who have studied writing too much. We get stuck on the rules, even when it means that our story might be richer if we broke a couple.

Fixing fencing after another flood
The blog has helped me as a homesteader -- as a gardener, a shepherd, a goat breeder, a cheesemaker, and everything else. I have always been terrible about keeping garden records, but if I blog about it, I have a record of when the raspberries ripened and when we made maple syrup last year. I never would have thought about documenting things like coyote losses or housebuilding progress if I didn't have the blog. If I have a major cheese failure, there is usually someone reading who knows what happened. It is so much fun to share exciting news of goat births. And it feels good to know that I'm not the only one who has questioned myself or felt rotten and irresponsible when an animal dies.

I really can't imagine not blogging, but I suppose that's because I am a writer at heart. A friend shared this article by Lee Martin, and although the article is about characters, this is what popped out and stuck in my head:

If you're really a writer, as opposed to just wanting to be one, you're dedicated to the work for the joy of it. You make it a part of the life you choose to live. Whatever happens from that point on happens. If you publish, fine. If you publish a few pieces and then stop, fine. If you never publish? Well, even then you still have this thing you love, this thing you do every day because it's so richly connected to your identity and the way you process the world.

Canning failure: Yes, the bottom blew off the jar,
and the jar somehow wound up upside down.
I suppose that is why there are so many deserted blogs out there. Most people are not writers. Who knows why they start a blog, but the bottom line is that blogging is writing, and if you don't like writing, you won't blog. But there is another key to keeping a blog for five years -- passion about the subject! I have started eight or nine blogs in the past five years, and all but this one are lying out there deserted in the Blogosphere. I thought I was passionate about the subjects of those blogs, but apparently not. Even when I'm not writing on this blog, I'm thinking about writing on it.


Some author once said that a bad day writing is better than a good day doing just about anything else. I suppose that's why I'm still blogging after five years and why I'm still homesteading after eight years -- it's what I love to do.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

How many animals?

I get this question all the time, but for whatever reason, it never occurred to me to blog about it. So, here goes . . . As of today, this is how many animals we have, but remember, lots of babies are coming this spring!

Nigerian dwarf goats: 8 bucks, 21 does, and only 2 kids at the moment, but that will be changing in a couple weeks!

La mancha goats: 2 does who will be looking for a pet home this spring if they don't have kids.

Cheyenne, a Shetland ewe
Shetland sheep: 1 ram, 3 wethers, 9 ewes

Julia Child, our first guinea hog gilt
American guinea hogs: 1 gilt, 1 boar

Katy and Dolce
Llamas: 4 males, 2 females

Jaxon and the heifers play ring-around-the-roses
Irish dexter cattle: 2 heifers, 1 bull (two calves coming in early March!)

Chickens: They're hard to count, because they don't stop moving, but it's about 40 New Hampshire hens, 3 N.H. roosters, 25 Ameraucanas, and half a dozen mutts.

Turkeys: 2 gobblers (one slate, one black Spanish), 1 bourbon red hen, 4 slate hens.


Geese: 9

Ducks: 3

Horse: 1
Chicken house in winter

Photos were from the archives as our world is currently covered in snow. It sure is fun looking through all these photos when it's 6 degrees outside.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Happy birthday, Star!

 Star in the fall of 2009
Saturday will be a special day on the farm -- Star, my very first milk goat, will turn 12 years old! That's pretty old for a goat. She's been retired for three years, because the last time she got pregnant, she had a tough time keeping weigh on her bones as she was nursing her triplet does. And don't tell her I said this, but she did not usually throw very good kids, so I didn't see the point in risking her health to get more kids out of her. Yes, she did give birth to John Adams, who had four grand champions to his credit (two in ADGA and two in AGS) under four different judges, but Star also had a bad habit of throwing teat defects. I think the total was five or six.

Star at age 2
Nine years ago, I bought her on Mother's Day and brought her to our farm. She had not been milked at her previous farm, so when I put her on the milk stand and started to milk her, she would not eat her grain. She just glared at me and tried to kick over the bucket. Mike held her back legs while I milked her, and after a few days, she decided that she'd rather eat the grain than waste time glaring at me or kicking. And she was a sweetheart from then on. I absolutely loved her long teats, and every year I hoped she would give me a little doe just like herself, but she never did.

Early on, I used two of her sons for breeding, and they gave me amazing daughters. John Adams sired ARMCH Antiquity Oaks Carmen *D, and Mercury sired Antiquity Oaks Anne Bronte 4*D, who did inherit her grandma's long teats and is one of my top milkers. So, I guess sometimes awesomeness skips a generation.

Because Star is the ultimate mama, I kept one of her last daughters so that she would not feel the need to steal other babies. (That's Lil as a baby in the banner.) One year, she didn't get pregnant, and she was trying to steal other kids from their mamas. It was really cute the way she'd walk up to kids and use her head to push them towards her non-existent udder as if to say, "Go ahead, dear, have a snack."

This is really opening a whole new chapter for me on the farm as Star gets well into her golden years. Within a couple more years, other does will also be retiring, and inevitably we will have to say a final farewell at some point in the not-too-distant future. That is something that I don't want to think about, because Star has been here since the beginning, but you don't hear about too many goats living past 12. She is in great shape for her age, other than a few dental problems, which we seem to have compensated for by switching her to a senior equine feed that is super soft and easy to digest.

And to think that I originally didn't want her. I thought her spots were ugly. I decided to buy her only because her owner said she'd probably have a lot of milk since she was nursing triplets. And now, I can't imagine what our farm would have been like without her.

A carrot cake with a goat cheese frosting sounds like a great way to celebrate the day! Happy birthday, dear Star! and many more!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ups and downs of kidding and nursing

I was at my computer writing yesterday when Mike came inside and said there was a bubble hanging from Athena's back end. Yes! This is the way I like it to happen. No false alarms. No soft ligaments at eleven o'clock at night. No sleeping in the barn. It just does not get any better than discovering a goat with a bubble in the middle of the day.

Athena's buckling on the left and doeling on the right
With an armful of towels, I went to the barn and told Mike that he should watch because our two-legged kids will all be gone in the next couple of years, so he will undoubtedly have to start playing goat midwife at some point. Athena got serious about fifteen minutes after I sat down next to her in the kidding pen, although she was very quiet. Aphrodite, her 10-month-old half sister, in the next pen was screaming her head off the whole time I was out there. I finally realized she was in heat and apparently taking after her Grandma Star who lets the whole neighborhood know when she wants a man. Talk about lousy timing. A goat goes into heat once every 21 days, and it just had to be the day Athena was giving birth, and it just had to be a very vocal doe about two feet away from me.

Athena's doeling learning to stand
Mike commented on how quiet Athena was, and I said, "Yep, that's why a baby monitor doesn't really help much with some does. They can be very stoic." The little doeling was born easily. That's obviously my perspective. Athena might describe it differently. I found it humorous that as soon as she was born, Mike and I spoke simultaneously. I said, "What a big baby!" and Mike said, "Oh! She's so skinny!" Perspective is an amazing thing, isn't it? I laughed. Yeah, they all look like skinny little drowned rats when they first pop out. It is amazing what a difference fluffy, dry hair makes!

It can take anywhere from a few seconds to half an hour for the second kid to make its appearance, so Mike went back to work on the plumbing in the barn office. Athena would give a half-hearted push every now and then. About half an hour later, she got serious, but the kid was not coming out very fast. Second kids usually fly out, so I figured it was probably breech. Not only was it butt first, but the kid had his hind legs tucked underneath him (as if he were already lounging in the pasture), so the hocks were coming out at the same time as the butt, meaning that poor Athena was trying to push out a bowling ball, rather than anything remotely pointy. But she did it.

Athena's blue-eyed buckling
The little doeling figured out how to nurse in no time, but the little buckling seemed clueless. He was on his feet and had plenty of energy though, so I figured he would get it all figured out in short order. I had a chiropractor appointment in the late afternoon, and I expected to come home and see both of them nursing like pros. Well, if there is one lesson that I keep learning over and over again, it is this -- as soon as I think I know all the answers, I am humbled.

The little buckling was not nursing by last night, so Katherine milked Athena and gave him some colostrum with a syringe. He had still not nursed by this morning, as evidenced by his sister's rounded, hard tummy and his soft, sunken belly. I managed to get him hooked up and nursing three times, but I never saw him spontaneously grab the teat and start sucking. So, for now, he has a very full tummy, and I'm hoping that when I go out there in a couple more hours, he will have it all figured out. I have never seen a big, healthy kid who couldn't get this figured out.

However, his mental state has me a little concerned. He runs to us humans when we walk in there, so I think he is connecting us with the idea of eating, just like a bottle baby does. We had a similar situation six years ago with a doeling whose mother wouldn't let her nurse. We would hold the mother while the kid nursed, and after a couple days, the kid wouldn't even try to nurse if we weren't there. So, I am wondering if the buckling even tries to nurse without us, or if he is just waiting for us to come in and feed him with a syringe or get him hooked up to mom. Who knows what goes through their little brains! If he doesn't get this figured out by the end of today, I'm thinking that we'll have a bottle baby on our hands.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

This-n-that

I'm waiting for Athena to kid. She is at day 147, so seriously any day between now and Sunday, because Nigerians almost never go beyond 150 days. At least she is not doing anything to freak me out. Her udder is not very big. Her tail ligaments are still easy to feel. She hasn't "dropped," so I'm happy and warm in front of my computer working on the book.

The book? I'm at 63,312 words right now. The goal is 80,000. I've been writing around 10,000 words a week for the past month, so hopefully will be done by the end of next week. Then I will have time to make everyone -- I mean, ask everyone -- in the family to read it and make sure I didn't make some huge mistakes. And that will give me time to revise and edit and revise and edit, which I do every time I read something I wrote. Deadline is February 15. Today, I've been writing up cheese recipes, and now I'm starting on goat milk soap.

Although the chickens quit laying last month, they have already started again. We don't artificially light our hen house, which is how they get eggs year round in factory farms, so we expect to go two or three months without eggs in the middle of winter. The New Hampshire red hens are 16 months old now and quickly endearing themselves to me. This spring when we are knee deep in eggs, I'll fill up the incubator. The pullets will become replacement layers, and the cockerels will become dinner over the summer.

Unfortunately, we have no milk. It's been years since we did not have milk. I decided to have all the goats kid by March this year, so that by May when Mike is off for the summer, we can swing into full-scale, serious cheese production now that we finally have the aging thing under control. I had bred two goats for January, and one didn't get pregnant. Athena is the other one. In February and March, it's going to be goatapalooza around here with 16 goats kidding, including five on or near my birthday in February. But at the moment, I'm really looking forward to Athena kidding, because I miss my fresh goat milk.

Jaxon the bull came home a few days ago. We co-own him with a friend who has two Irish dexters heifers and lives an hour away. It didn't seem fair to have a bull for only our two heifers, so we decided to share him. He seemed happy to be home. His co-owner bought him a big, blue collar, which fits his personality perfectly because he's like a big puppy.

Molly and Bridget the heifers are as wide as houses, but they aren't due until early March. No udders yet, but they are still perfectly fine with us handling their teats, which sure makes us happy. We have to figure out where we are going to milk them, because they sure won't fit into the milking parlor that we use for the goats. I've been thinking about this for months, and I keep thinking we need a cow barn. But we can't exactly build one in the middle of winter.

Speaking of winter -- a pipe in the main barn busted yesterday. The break is underground, so we can't fix it until winter is over. Unfortunately, that means hauling a lot of water now.

And that's the way it is, in the middle of winter, on Antiquity Oaks.

Monday, January 10, 2011

More than 6,000 pounds of food in 2010!

Now, when people ask me how much food we produce, I can tell them -- more than 6,000 pounds in 2010. I've never been able to answer that question in the past, so a year ago I told the family that we had to start weighing and writing down everything we picked, collected, butchered, and milked.

A few things are not on the list. We completely forgot to weigh a few things -- like carrots. Sometimes we would pick and eat something so small that it didn't seem worth weighing -- like green onions. Then after picking and eating about 30 green onions, I realized that we really should have been weighing them. They would have added up. And even though there are more than 50 pounds of corn in our freezer, we didn't feel right adding it to the list because it was a gift from a neighbor. We did spend about five hours, however, shucking, blanching, cutting, and bagging it before putting it into the freezer. And some things really have me scratching my head -- like eggs. If 40 layers only laid 277 dozen, that's only about 83 eggs per chicken, so either our chickens are terrible layers, or they hid a bunch of them, or we didn't count a lot of them!

The list only includes food grown for human consumption. We did not count milk that was fed to goat kids, barn cats, and pigs. Nor did we count hay, acorns, hickory nuts, overgrown squash, and rotten tomatoes that were fed to animals.

Chocolate ice cream with caramel sauce on meringue
One thing not reflected in this list is what we did with all that milk. We made almost all of our own dairy products, including queso blanco, cheddar, gouda, feta, parmesan, mozzarella, ricotta, brie, gjetost, cajeta, yogurt, buttermilk, dulce de leche, ice cream, and chevre.

Although I am proud of everything we did, I'm also disappointed that we dropped the ball on some things, like the okra and tomatoes. We should have -- could have -- harvested a lot more, but we didn't get it harvested at the peak of ripeness, which is disappointing. It seems ridiculous that sometimes the hardest part of gardening is harvesting. Although we enjoyed fried okra a few times over the summer, we never got any breaded and frozen for winter use. We also never got the shitake mushroom spawns into logs, so the shitake project is delayed.

As much as I'd love to have some fried okra right now, as well as some shitake mushrooms, I know we should just pat ourselves on the back and promise to try harder this year.

Collecting maple sap
Apples 48.5 pounds
Blackberries 3.75 pounds
Cherries 6.5 pounds
Chicken 43 pounds
Cucumbers 19.8 pounds
Eggs  415.5 pounds (277 doz.)
Green beans 34.8 pounds
Lamb and mutton 207 pounds
Lettuce 8.75 pounds
Maple syrup 31.5 pounds (10.5 quarts)
Milk 2,755 pounds (366 gallons)
Mulberries 2.4 pounds
Mushrooms 3.725 pounds
Mustard greens 8.5 pounds
Okra 8 pounds
Onions 22 pounds
Peaches 2.75 pounds
JalapeƱo peppers
Pears 79 pounds
Peppers 38 pounds
Pork 1,662 pounds
Potatoes 75 pounds
Raspberries 15.9 pounds
Sprouts 4.25 pounds
Squash 77 pounds
Tomatoes 165 pounds
Turkeys 306 pounds
Turnips 3.5 pounds
Turnip greens 1.1 pound

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Chicago chickens

In Homegrown and Handmade, there will be a section on backyard poultry, and because I've never had chickens in the city, I decided to visit some people who keep chickens in Chicago. Katherine went with me because she is doing most of the photos for the book. It was a fun and inspiring day!

We visited four coops in the city and one in a suburb. They ranged from the ultimate in original green design to the ultimate in repurposing an existing structure, which is also a sustainable concept.

This coop is in the suburb of Batavia. It is actually a chicken tractor, which the owner moves with his front loader. You can't see them very well in the snow, but there are skids under the coop and the run. The coop was originally a model shed at a home improvement store, which explains why it is only four feet deep. Owner Jeffrey Glaser added a window on the opposite side of the building, as well as more vents for good air circulation. The coop is home to eleven happy hens.

Martha Sanders and her family built their chicken coop into the end of their garage. From inside the garage, they can open the coop to feed and water their four hens and pick up eggs. The run on the left side of the photo is covered with hardware cloth to keep the hens safe from predators. The unusual "bump out" in their garage was put in by a previous owner who had a car that was too long for the garage. The family added the lower window to provide light for the hens. That window, as well two additional windows used on the other side of the coop (inside the garage) are repurposed from Martha's sister-in-law's house remodeling.

If you don’t want to give up any garden space for a chicken coop, Beth Berger Martin’s idea might work for you. An avid gardener, she built her chicken coop with a “green roof” so that she could plant on top of it. Her Chicago yard is too small and shady to be able to grow vegetables, so she had been using EarthBoxes in her neighbor’s backyard. When she decided to add chickens to her own yard, she took the opportunity to raise ground level to eight feet where plants would get sunlight on top of her chicken coop. The top of her coop is made with repurposed two-by-six joists covered with two layers of three-quarter inch by six inch by sixteen-foot boards, which are covered with roofing felt. The “raised bed” has a waterproof liner, and the roof is sloped so run-off will go into a rain barrel.

Because chickens are short, the coop only occupies the middle third of the red structure on the left side. The space above and below the coop opens to the opposite side and will be used for storing chicken feed, straw, and tools. Nest boxes in the coop also open to the outside, so eggs can be collected without entering the coop or run. Fresh greens will be planted in the window box in spring, so that the hens can have a snack by sticking their heads through the window. The front wall of the coop is actually a giant door on hinges and can be opened for easy cleaning. The run (on the right) is covered with hardware cloth.

Would you guess that this is a chicken coop? Four bantams are locked up for the night under this six-by-eight-foot porch. Come morning, owner Alexandra Gomez-Koski lets them out to run around her fenced backyard. The space had previously been used for storage. Alexandra said she thought about getting chickens for a while, but she was put off by the idea of having to build a coop because she had never built anything before. Then she realized she already had a space available that would work.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sneak peak: Homemade noodle recipe

The following recipe is from Homegrown and Handmade. If you get a chance to try it, let me know what you think, especially if you have any problems with the instructions.

Homemade Noodles

Cut and dried and waiting to be boiled
Although noodles are not expensive to buy, they cost only pennies to make, and you can use your own organic eggs. They are also incredibly easy and delicious. This recipe is enough for one serving of noodles as a main dish or two servings if it is part of a hearty soup or side dish. Feel free to double, triple, or quadruple as needed.

1 egg
½ cup flour plus more for rolling out
pinch of salt

Break egg into bowl and beat. Add flour and mix thoroughly. It’s easier if you add it ¼ cup at a time. The dough should form a ball. If it hasn’t formed a ball yet, add a little more flour. Roll it in flour to coat completely. Sprinkle flour liberally on countertop or waxed paper and press dough ball down on it. Flip dough ball over and press again. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough as thinly as possible. It’s quite elastic and will keep trying to shrink on you. Use flour liberally to keep the dough from sticking to the countertop or rolling pin. You can’t use too much flour at this point. Cut noodles into strips using a pizza cutter. If you don’t have a pizza cutter, sprinkle more flour on the dough, then roll up like a jelly roll and cut through the roll with a knife to make noodles. Dry for one or two hours, if you have time. If you want to cook them right away, they’ll puff up a little but will still taste great. Drop them into boiling chicken broth (made from a stew hen) for best flavor.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The New Year's Eve flood of 2010

We saw it coming. That is the only good thing I can say about the flood. After nine years, we've figured out the flood formulas, and we were ready, so there are no stories of risking our necks to save stranded sheep or horses or drowning goats this time.

When the weather forecast predicted rain with temperatures climbing into the 50s after weeks of below zero temperatures at night, we knew exactly what it would mean -- the frozen ground would not be able to absorb any of the rain or melted snow, and the creek would flood. We moved all the animals to high ground and hoped that the prediction for rain was wrong. It wasn't.

When we were awakened by loud thunderclaps at 5:30 a.m. on New Year's Eve, Mike got out of bed and started checking on all the usual suspects. The store room in the barn was flooded, so he put a sump pump in there to pump it out. The pen north of the barns was filling with water, so he used a pick ax to cut a trench for the water to drain away from the kidding barn, which usually floods in these situations. The septic field had standing water in it, so everyone had strict instructions not to use any water that was not absolutely necessary.

By New Year's Day, the water had receded, the temperatures fell below freezing, and our little world was frozen again.

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