Monday, April 30, 2012

The trouble with rams

No, a car did not go through our fence and hit the sheep shelter. That bit of damage was done by Storm the ram. The shelter separates the ram pen from the pasture where the ewes were running. And he busted through the corrugated metal and 2X4 framing so he could rejoin the ewes.

I suppose he was mad that we took him away from the girls and put him in his own pen. For the winter -- a.k.a. breeding season -- we had him with most of the flock except for my two ten-year-old ewes and Storm's yearling daughter. We decided to let the three ewes go back with the rest of the flock, and put Storm by himself, so he wouldn't get those last three ewes pregnant. Although sheep are seasonal breeders, I'm not quite sure when their season ends because we have had September lambs in the past, so I know they can still get pregnant in April.

Storm was okay being separated from the girls last year, but he was younger then. Rams can get to be a problem as they get older. They seem to get bossier. He has also broken several fence posts. He is getting to be quite expensive, as well as dangerous. We all know better than to go into the pasture alone. His modus operandi is usually the same. First he runs up as if to say hi, then after checking you out, he backs up, puts his head down, and charges right at you. So, whenever something needs to be done in the pasture, two people need to go in there -- one to do what needs to be done and one to keep an eye on Storm and fend off his attacks.

I'm starting to feel like some evil emperor executing too many subjects, but I don't think there are many people out there who would volunteer to give Storm a nice home. If by chance, you want this lovely boy to join your farm, contact me soon because sadly his days are numbered.

Since this is not the first time we've had a ram like this -- and I've heard plenty of other people talk about ram temperament -- I am starting to think that I may stop breeding sheep. I have plenty of wool, and if I run out, I know plenty of people who sell it. And my ewes will still be around for a lot of years. But seriously, I should probably sell some of them anyway. And here we are about to enter another lambing season!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bulls will be bulls

It's been a crazy day, and it's only noon. We started out with sheep shearing, and before that was done, we heard honking at the front gate. I went out there to find a neighbor telling me that our bull was flirting with his cows about a mile away. Mike and Katherine took a pan of alfalfa cubes and a lead rope, assuming they could just lead him home the way we did last summer when he got out.

Things didn't exactly go as planned. About twenty minutes later Mike called to say that Jaxon had sort of lost his mind, and they needed help. The sheep shearer had just finished, so I told Margaret and Jonathan to head over. I paid the shearer and decided to head out and see if they needed my help also. When I turned down the road I saw our truck slowly creeping towards me with a bull tied to a cattle chute that the truck was pulling.

According to Mike, this is what happened -- They walked right up to Jaxon when they arrived, and Jaxon started munching on the alfalfa cubes. Katherine snapped the lead rope onto his collar, and Mike started leading him down the road. When Jaxon realized that the goal was to take him away from the sexy cows, he got a little upset and took off. You don't have to have any experience with cattle to know that a man cannot stop a bull from running off if he really wants to run. That's when Mike called for reinforcements. They trapped Jaxon in a corner next to the chute, and Mike tied the end of the lead rope to the chute, then asked the neighbor if he could return it after bringing Jaxon home. He didn't want to risk trying to lead Jaxon to the pick-up and tying him to the bumper because they were thinking that Jaxon would just take off again.

When we got Jaxon home, I was taking pictures of him, saying that we needed to sell him. But then the obvious question arose -- where are we going to keep him so that he can't go visiting the neighbor's cows again? We had no idea. Obviously none of our fences are good enough. Our barn was originally built for racehorses, so that should hold him. But I am not feeding him hay and mucking out stalls forever. The option of turning him into beef was discussed, but we decided to just put him in the barn for now. I had the brilliant idea of putting a second lead rope on him so that two people could lead him into the barn. Do you think that worked?

Of course not. Obviously a bull is stronger than two men, and Jaxon knew it. I was really glad we have our entire property fenced, and as we watched him running around our front yard, we again started talking about butchering him. About twenty minutes passed as we tried to move him back to the barn, and then I told Mike to go inside and call the locker to find out how soon we could bring him in.  Shortly after he went inside, Jaxon got close to the fence that separates the front and backyard, and our herding dog Porter started to run along the other side of the fence. That pushed Jaxon to start running in the direction of the barn. And he kept running. After all of the drama of the past hour, could this really end so easily?

Yes! Well, almost. Jaxon ran into the barn, and we closed the door behind him. He ran all the way to the other end, and we opened the door of a stall. Jonathan picked up the lead rope, and I suppose since Jaxon realized he didn't have anywhere to run, he walked back towards the front of the barn. When he saw the open stall door, he went inside, and Jonathan slammed the stall door behind him.

As the four of us came walking out of the barn, Mike came out of the house and yelled across the yard, asking us where Jaxon was. We were all incredibly happy that the bull was finally locked up. And Jaxon has an appointment with destiny for Monday morning.

There is a part of me that feels guilty for butchering him, as if we've failed. But he is a meat animal, and it simply is not practical for him to stay here. There is a lot of liability involved in having a bull, especially if he escaped and ran into the road, causing an accident. And it probably isn't even practical to have him with only two cows, although we've been sharing him with someone else who has two cows. He is a nice bull, as far as bulls go, but they have a lot of testosterone running through their bodies, and that makes them a challenge to handle and to house.

I've been planning a blog post on testosterone and rams, which I hope to get posted in the next few days!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ten years!

It seems like it's only been a few years since I started my first chicks in the basement of our suburban Chicago home as we were waiting to close on the property that would become Antiquity Oaks, but as of yesterday, it's been ten years since we moved out here!

Back then, everyone thought we were crazy. When I told friends about our plans, they looked at me with scrunched up eyebrows and said, "Did you grow up on farm?" When I said, "No," they started to pepper me with questions like "Why are you doing this?" and "How are you going to know what to do?"

My father, who was still alive in 2002 said, "What do you want to do that for?" He clearly thought I'd lost my mind. He and my mother had left their farm and moved us to town when I was three years old. It's what smart, modern people did.

The above photo was taken in 2003. We had not made many changes at that point. We lived in the mobile home that was on the property when we bought it. We had put in a garden and a few fruit trees, but there was no chicken house and no picket fence across the front or buck pens in the pasture to the right of the barns.

We had four milk goats and a buck. We'd get our second buck in 2003, and he would turn out to be the best buck we've had to date, siring three of our best milkers. Unfortunately he'd only be with us for three years because we'd lose him to a copper deficiency that we didn't know was being caused by the sulfur in our well water.

We had two cows and our first two calves in 2003. There were no pigs or sheep yet, but we already had a nice poultry collection.

Although we never bought an egg again after we moved out here, it took a little longer to become self-reliant in the dairy department. Although we had four milk goats, I could only milk two of them, which gave us enough milk for our fluid milk needs and some chévre, yogurt, and goat milk soap. Today we make 17 different kinds of cheese.

We became vegetarians in 1989, and we had no intention of starting to eat meat when we came out here. Although today we eat the meat we grow, I am more committed than ever to not eating factory-farmed meat, so I still choose vegetarian options when eating in restaurants. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In 2002, people thought we were crazy. Today, they think we're cool. Even people who are content living in the city and eating conventional food can understand why we do what we do. That represents a huge shift in the mindset of society.

Has it really been ten years . . .
. . . since I learned to milk a goat?
. . . since my children came running into the house with a shiny, wet egg that they joyfully proclaimed was "fresh from the butt!"
. . . since I learned to make chévre and yogurt and kefir?
. . . since I started the most amazing journey of my life!

It has been an incredible decade! We've done everything we set out to do and more. We learned to grow our own food and make things I never dreamed of, like gjetost. And it never crossed my mind that we would someday be making our own maple syrup. I didn't even know there were any maple trees on this property when we bought it. When someone asked ten years ago if I had any plans to raise pigs, I laughed and said no.

New picket fence on Antiquity Oaks in 2009;
we built the house in 2005.
Yes, it's a lot of work. Yes, it can be really dirty. And yes, there are days when you feel your heart breaking. But there are also those delicious times -- like eating the first fresh asparagus a moment after snapping its stem while still standing in the garden. And there are joyful times -- like watching a mama hen with her chicks or seeing a fuzzy lamb bounce across the pasture. And there are those times that are simply too miraculous and wonderful for our language to be able to express -- like watching a baby goat come into the world, take its first breaths, and lift itself up on wobbly legs to find its first meal with its mother.

We've learned so much! We've lived so much! And I'm looking forward to the next ten years on Antiquity Oaks!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Girlfriend's triplets

This kidding season has been filled with more surprises than any other in recent memory. The triplets were not a surprise, but the way that Girlfriend did things was very unusual, to say the least.

Girlfriend, a first generation mini la mancha, has been quite large for at least a month, so I've been saying that I wouldn't be surprised if she had triplets, even though she's a yearling, and they usually only have one or two. Saturday night, her udder was quite large for a first freshener, but her tail ligaments were still very easy to find. The udder convinced me that she could kid pretty soon, so I put her in a kidding pen during evening chores.

A mini mancha doe with elf ears
Katherine was doing chores Sunday morning when she walked into the kidding barn to find Girlfriend standing in her pen munching away on hay with a kid nursing -- a fluffy, dry kid nursing! Katherine thought to herself, Well, isn't Mom going to be surprised that Girlfriend only had one kid!

She went to milk the goats and when she came back about half an hour later, there was a kid in the straw, still half covered with an amniotic sac, and Girlfriend was in the process of pushing out a third kid! It had to have been at least two or three hours since the first kid was born because it was completely dry and fluffy.

So the final count is one buck with erect ears and two does that are marked just like mama, but one has big ears. I definitely lost the ear lottery big time with the second generation mini manchas this year. Odd are that 25% will have erect ears, but three of the five mini kids this year actually have erect ears! Well, that lovely little doe will make a great family milker for someone who isn't interested in registered goats. But I digress . . . back to their entry into the world . . .

A mini mancha doe with erect ears,
which happens 25% of the time with second generation.
For the first time ever in the history of this farm, I have to say that I'm glad I wasn't present for a birth. Even though no one was there, we learned a lot. My "let nature take its course" attitude might have been tested severely if I'd been there. I am a lot more "hands off" than a lot of people with goats. As long as a doe is not in obvious distress, I let her handle things, and it works quite well. So many people are afraid that kids will be born dead if they don't intervene after a certain number of minutes, even when the doe seems perfectly fine. I could make guesses all day long about what I'd have done with Girlfriend, but I'll save myself the time and simply file away this information under "lessons learned."


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