Tuesday, August 28, 2012


A week ago, my baby girl moved off to the University of Illinois to continue working towards her bachelor of science degree in molecular and cellular biology with a minor in chemistry. Our oldest left three years ago, and today she is an electrical engineer in Chicago. That means we are down to one child left at home, and I'm pretty sure that number will be zero before I blink! As much as I love my children and miss them as any mother would, there is also a practical side to them leaving home because we live on a farm.

Years ago, people would say, "That's a lot of work" when they learned about all of the animals that we had and how much food we grew for ourselves. I'd always respond, "Not really," and then explain that there were five of us, so it added up to less than an hour morning and evening for each of us. At the time, it never occurred to me that when my children were gone, it would mean more hours of my time spent taking care of farm chores. It easily adds up to about three hours each morning and evening when one person has to do it all, which is six hours a day! I've talked about this a little in past posts when I was left home alone, but those were isolated days -- not a regular occurrence. Now I have a new normal.

And I am terribly conflicted. It is easy enough to say that we need to sell some of our animals, but it is another thing to actually do it.  To sell animals, you have to do things like advertise them, and it is really easy to procrastinate when your heart really is not into something.

Remember the Shetland flock liquidation I wrote about a couple months ago? I've sold one ewe lamb. I may have mentioned it on Facebook, but I didn't really advertise them.

And I was planning to cut back on the goats. In fact, I have two listed as "for sale" on my website. But I am brutally honest about their shortcomings -- maybe honest to the point that I over-emphasize faults and talk people out of buying them? I don't want them to be disappointed, right?

However, there are only so many hours in a day, and I already have more than enough to keep me busy! And I've signed a contract to write another book, plus I'll be doing a book tour for EcoThrifty this fall.

Of course, we will always have chickens because I love my fresh eggs and chicken meat -- and besides, they don't take much time. And even though I've all but given up on the idea of milking the cows, I love having our own grassfed beef. I do know a farmer who raises organic cattle an hour away, and I'd recommend his beef to anyone. I've even eaten it myself when we didn't have any. It is actually the only beef I've eaten in 24 years that we didn't grow ourselves. Maybe it's the Texas blood in me (I lived there the first 19 years of my life), but I just really like the idea of having my own cattle. And the cows only take about 10 minutes morning and evening to care for.

As much as I love having my own pork, I'm not sure it is such a great idea to have my own breeding stock. If we went back to raising pigs from weaning in spring to finishing in fall, at least we wouldn't have to care for them over the winter.

The goats take more time than any of the animals, mostly because of milking, but it is especially hard to sell the goats! I have spent ten years selectively breeding them to get better and better milkers. Last year, several of our goats were on the Top Ten list for the One-Day Milk Test with the American Goat Society, and Charlotte was #1 for pounds of milk produced. And just this year, I finally had two first fresheners that milked like champions! Agnes, pictured above, freshened last September and is still milking! I couldn't possibly sell her or Alexandria, the doe that freshened in October and is still going strong. I have a number of distinct genetic lines, and in order to have genetic diversity, I need to keep a certain number of unrelated goats. I am starting to understand why parents might want a child to take over a business that they spent a lifetime growing. Even though I've only been at this for ten years, it isn't something that I want to give up! And it isn't something that I want to see dissolve into oblivion as the herd is sold off in bits and pieces here and there.

Then there is the house -- I'd really like to see our house get finished before I die. No, I'm not that old or sick. I'm just losing faith. Eight years after breaking ground, it still is not finished. That's why the blog intro (on the left) still says I'll write about housebuilding progress. Believe me, if anything ever gets done, I will let you know! They quit selling the tile that I was going to use around our bathtub. And I'm not sure we can find the baseboard or the deck railing. We put it out in one of the barns when we bought it five or six years ago, but I don't remember the last time I saw it.

I want it all -- beautiful house, writing books, growing our own food, and even a vacation now and then. But at some point, something has gotta give! Writing? No. Housework? Too late -- that's been history for a long time already! Animals? I just can't decide!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Our first farm crawl

What's a farm crawl? I think it's an Iowa invention, but it's becoming an Illinois thing after last weekend! You see, I have these farm-girl-girlfriends from the Iowa-Illinois Quad Cities area, and they had a "farm crawl" last year in September. It was such a success, and they kept talking about it and telling me that I should get together with some local farm-girl-girlfriends and coordinate one here. And that's exactly what I did.

Since April, the four of us have been meeting monthly -- Janet from Eden's Harvest, Cheryl from the Farmer in Odell, and Kat from M2A Farm (Am Too A Farm) -- and planning the North Central Illinois Farm Crawl. Even though we're all within about ten miles of each other, we live in four different towns and two counties, so we had to come up with a somewhat general name.

We created a website, mentioned it on our Facebook farm pages, as well as internet groups related to livestock, and contacted the local newspapers. We cleaned up our farms, put signs on the fences to tell a little about the animals in there, and set up tables with homegrown items to sell.

And then the big day arrived! And we were astonished at the number of people who came to visit our farms! Not only were there people from the local area, but we even had some visitors from Chicago and the suburbs. We're estimating that we had about 300 visitors throughout the day. At Antiquity Oaks, the first car arrived at three minutes before 10 a.m., which was the start time, and by 10:30 when we did a goat milking demonstration, there were eight cars here.

We sold goat milk soap, books, yarn, roving, and sheepskins. And we had tons of fun talking to everyone. The other farms had just as much fun, and by the end, we were all talking about next year!

So, if you want to keep track of our plans for 2013, you can subscribe to the Farm Crawl blog.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Carmen's kidding

 Carmen and Rosie
Carmen was due to kid last week, and even after ten years of goat birthing, it was a unique experience -- starting with the last week or so of her pregnancy. I could see her belly bouncing from across the stall in the barn. And when she would get on the milk stand for her grain, I'd put my hand on her belly and feel the crazy kicking and squirming inside. It had me a little worried that someone might rip off an umbilical cord or otherwise get hurt. You know how us grandmas can be!

Thursday afternoon around three, Katherine came into the house and said that Carmen's water broke. So, I posted on Facebook, "Carmen's water broke! Babies coming soon!" I will never again do that! I wound up spending the next nine hours going in and out of the barn watching her and worrying. But I kept seeing her belly bouncing, so was not too concerned about the kids being okay.

Finally at midnight I decided I'd sleep in the barn. As soon as I walked out there at 12:20 a.m. with my sleeping bag and pillow, Carmen got serious. I pulled out my new camera and started snapping a few pictures. It wasn't too long before I saw a nose and then a whole head. And then ... nothing else. A contraction came and went. Carmen pushed. And there was still just a head.

I reminded myself that the kid looked perfectly fine and was very much alive, and that eight years ago, it had taken about 45 minutes to get a lamb out of her mama after her head had emerged because the mama was running around the pasture. And the little ewe lamb was perfectly fine. Still, I ran into the barn office to get rubber gloves and iodine. I squirted iodine all over my gloved hand and slid my fingers into Carmen to see if I could find a leg to pull on. There was nothing to be found within easy reach. After a few minutes, I decided to get Katherine to help because she has smaller hands, and it was a very tight squeeze in Carmen's pelvis.

I ran into the house and yelled, "Mike! Katherine! I need help! NOW!" Katherine was already asleep and was not terribly happy about being woke up in the middle of the night to help, but she sleepily put on her shoes and headed to the barn with me. It was not an easy task and took a bit of pushing and pulling on the head for her to find just the right placement of the kid's body in the pelvis for her to be able to get her hand in there to find a leg and pull it forward. Once she did that, it reduced the size of the kid's shoulders enough that she was able to pull it out.

The buckling looked huge, and I immediately told Mike to get the scale. I had to know what the little monster weighed! No wonder Carmen had trouble. A few minutes later, she was pushing again, and another black kid started to emerge. This one had both front hooves under its chin and came out without any help from us. It was a doe! And it was equally huge. I thought it might even be bigger than the buckling, which had weighed in at 4 pounds, 1 ounce. As it turned out, the doeling weighed merely three ounces less than him.

Within ten minutes, both kids were walking around on wobbly legs, and five minutes later, they had both latched on and nursed. There was no hint that the buckling's entré into the world had been anything less than perfect. By 2 a.m., I was in bed.
Carmen and kids were the stars of Saturday's Farm Crawl.

Carmen's kids are all named after operas, and Mike suggested Figaro for the buck, so I decided to check out the Figaro opera for female names. The doeling will be Countess Rosina Almaviva, which I'll call Rosie for short. And I may leave off the Countess on her papers because otherwise, I won't have room to add her sire's name.

Rosie will be staying here as a future milker, and Figaro will be sold as a future herd sire ... although it is really tempting to keep him too!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bridget's new heifer

Yes! After having three bull calves in the last two calving seasons, we finally got a heifer! This is little Ciara, which is Irish and pronounced like kee-ra. The plan is to keep her, so she can be our future milk cow.

On Saturday morning, July 28, Katherine and I were doing chores, and when we took Chaffhaye out to the cows, Molly and Bridget came running up right away. Molly's calf wasn't far behind. As I stood there admiring the little bull calf, I saw something small and black moving in the distant grass. I gasped and moved quickly to position myself to see around the cows, and sure enough -- there was a little calf!

Katherine and I jumped over the gate and went running down the hill. The little calf walked towards me, and I got one stroke under the chin, when the little darlin' took off like a rocket running across the pasture! She ran smack into the electric fence and got herself terribly tangled in it. Katherine rushed to unhook it at a juncture, as the calf was bawling like crazy. I had almost reached the calf when she freed herself and took off running towards the western fence. I yelled at Katherine to run faster and cut her off before she got herself tangled in that one.

Finally we got her turned around and slowly pushed her back towards her mama, who was happily munching away on the Chaffhaye. Once we had her reunited with Bridget, we were able to get close enough to figure out the gender. She is a shy one though, so we'll have to work on socializing her. I'm not sure if she's polled or not, but her head doesn't look as round as the bull calf. Daddy was polled though, so there is a 50/50 chance that she will be naturally hornless.


Related Posts with Thumbnails