Friday, February 22, 2013

Making our own wine

For years, I've wanted to start making our own wine, but I was adamant that we start with growing our own grapes. Well, that hasn't exactly happened yet. We've planted grapes a couple of times. Lack of water got them one year. Goats got them another year. And the last time I ordered vines, we just never got around to planting them!

So, a year ago I decided that making our own wine from concentrated grape juice would at least be a step in the right direction. I am not talking about grape juice concentrate from the grocery store. You can actually buy concentrated juice from wine vineyards all over the world. We've made Riesling from Washington State, Cabernet Sauvignon from California, Pinot Grigio from Italy, and more. We've made seven batches of 30 bottles already, and we've started drinking five of the different wines. We bought all of the equipment and ingredients from Midwest Supplies.

One thing I really like about making our wine is that we can reuse bottles. It used to drive me crazy to see perfectly good wine bottles going into the recycling bin. For years, I had even saved some of the prettier bottles with the idea that we could make drinking glasses out of them. Now we can reuse bottles after washing them out. After washing them out, we put them in the dishwasher rack to dry.

Making wine isn't really hard. And it isn't terribly time-consuming until you get to bottling. But you can procrastinate on bottling as long as you need. Our Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir stayed in the carboy for three or four months because Mike didn't have time to bottle it. So, it got a head start on the aging!

In addition to saving our own wine bottles, we ask friends to save their bottles for us, but you can buy new bottles to get started, if you prefer. Although you can reuse bottles, you need to use new corks. We got this fancy corker to make it very easy to put corks into the bottles.

We couldn't be happier with the results! I was initially skeptical about the quality, because I hate "cheap" wine. I started off buying only wines with lots of 5-star reviews, but I got brave after a few and ordered a wine that had no reviews at all. We wound up loving it! Other than one very reserved response, friends and family have all given our wine two thumbs up, so I think it has about a 95% approval rating. And it winds up costing us only about $2-4 a bottle!

Although I felt like I was wimping out in terms of sustainability by not growing our own grapes, this is a better option than buying individual bottles of wine. One 2.5 gallon container requires a lot less energy to produce than 30 wine bottles.

And when I visited Monticello last year, I learned that Thomas Jefferson and I have something else in common beyond our love of farming. He was never able to grow grapes on Monticello during his lifetime, although he believed that America could someday make wine as good as Europe. In the meantime, however, he bought large casks of wine and bottled it on his farm, rather than buying individual bottles of wine!

If you've ever thought about making your own wine, I really recommend starting with a kit.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Lessons in neonatal goat care

Last night was the final night for our first winter intern, so we decided to take her out to dinner. Of course, as soon as I told her we were going out to dinner, I went into the kidding barn to discover that Sadie was in early labor! We decided to run out right away so that we'd be sure to get home in time for her kidding, especially because she was a first freshener.

By the time we arrived home from the restaurant, Sadie was still in early labor, so I checked email and did some paperwork and decided to get to bed by 10:00, which is early for me. We now have a video monitor to keep an eye on does in the kidding pens, so I was watching on the TV in my bedroom. I was in bed reading an article about dealing with drought when I heard a soft sound that was unmistakably the sound of a doe pushing. I jumped out of bed, ran across the hall to tell the apprentice that Sadie was pushing, and I went back into my bedroom to put my clothes back on. As I was in the middle of getting dressed, Sadie changed her tone and was in full-blown screaming panic! My son could hear her in the basement, which is two floors below the TV, and he said it sounded like she was being ripped apart by coyotes. The apprentice and I went into slight panic mode and went running outside with only one layer on our lower halves, which we didn't even realized until we were in the barn, and our legs started to feel really cold.

Within five minutes of our arrival, a black kid was presenting. Just as the apprentice said, "Oh, this one's breech," the kid shot out. I wiped off the nose, and realized Sadie was ignoring the kid. I held it in front of her face, telling her, "Look at your baby, Sadie. You need to lick your baby." She was ignoring it. I didn't want to wipe too much because I wanted to encourage Sadie to bond with her. However, my guess of the kid's size was about two pounds, which is quite small and very vulnerable to hypothermia. After a few minutes, Sadie started to lick it, and then she started to push again. After only a couple of pushes, another small kid came shooting out, this one nose and hoof first.

By now Sadie was licking the first kid, and I was starting to dry off the second one, and Sadie let out a little noise. I saw a third kid presenting, and handed the second one to the apprentice to dry off as I caught the third one, which also came out very quickly, also breech. A few seconds later, Sadie let out another yell, and a big bubble came out. It was dark, and both of us thought we saw kid parts in the bubble, but it was just fluid, which was good because we were running low on towels! Sadie had not been very large, and we were not expecting more than two kids.

Although the doelings were all quite small, they were very healthy and trying to walk around the pen within minutes. The second one, which was brown, was especially active, and I was calling her "our little world traveler." I realized that Lizzie was paying very close attention to the kid through the pig panel that separates the kidding pens, and it occurred to me that Lizzie is an outstanding producer, while Sadie is a yearling and will probably not be able to produce enough milk to feed three kids. Lizzie also happens to be Sadie's mom, so it seemed totally appropriate that she would nurse one of her granddaughters.

"I've never done this before," I said, "but I think this could work. Lizzie is so interested in this kid, and she just gave birth earlier today. I bet she'll accept this one as hers." So, I took the little brown kid into her pen and let her sniff it, saying, "Lizzie, you wanted a daughter, didn't you?" Then I placed the kid under Lizzie and tried to get her to nurse, which was fine with Lizzie, but the kid was oblivious. She had zero sucking reflex, and in spite of my efforts and Lizzie's patience, I realized this was not going to work, simply because the kid wasn't interested in nursing.

But kids also need ten percent of their body weight in colostrum within 24 hours, and they need half of that within the first few hours after birth. I had called over the TV monitor for Mike to bring my camera, and when he arrived, I asked him to bring me a milk bucket, bottle, strainer, and funnel so that I could milk Lizzie and give colostrum to the kids with a bottle. At this point, the kids were an hour old, and none of them had any sucking reflex at all.

I was on my knees milking Lizzie as she stood in the middle of her kidding pen until she lost patience with me, but I had three ounces, which would be a good start if I could get that into the kids. After trying each kid multiple times, I finally got an ounce into the black one, and a little later, I got another half ounce into her. Sadie let me milk her, and I added another ounce of colostrum to the bottle. After getting an ounce into the brown one, but nothing into the cream one, I said to the apprentice that I was taking the cream one into the house because I needed to get some colostrum out of the freezer, and besides that, I was freezing.

When we got into the house, we realized it was 1:30. We had been outside for three hours, and Sadie had given birth within the first ten minute after we got out there! I was thinking out loud about why we had three apparently healthy kids that were not sucking, and everything finally started to add up. I put my finger in the kid's mouth and realized it was not warm. It wasn't ice cold like a kid with severe hypothermia, but her body temp was definitely below normal. When kids get chilled, sucking is one of the first things to go.

By the time we had warmed up the colostrum for her, she was already warmed up quite a bit from simply being in the house, and she sucked down the ounce of colostrum like a pro. My theory now verified, I went searching for kid coats. I found only one, so I chose a sweatshirt to sacrifice and made two more, then took them outside to put on the other two kids. I wasn't terribly worried about them because they had already consumed a decent amount of colostrum, but I wanted to make sure they stayed warm enough. I came back inside, put the cream kid into a laundry basket and went to bed.

I knew the other kids would need more colostrum before morning, however, so I left the TV monitor on. At 4:30 I was awakened by one of the kids and Sadie talking to each other. I woke up Mike and updated him on everything that had happened, telling him that he needed to get more colostrum into the kids. He went outside and had no luck getting those two kids to nurse, and just as he came back inside, the kid in the laundry room was waking up. I wanted to help but still hadn't really warmed up myself. Mike defrosted another ounce of colostrum for the baby in the laundry room and she sucked it down. He handed her to me, and she started bopping my chin and trying to suck on it. I got excited and suggested he take her outside and see if she'd nurse on her mom.

Mike went back outside with the kid, returning about an hour later at 6 a.m. to tell me that the cream kid never nursed on Mama Sadie, but the other two did finally! Because the cream kid had just consumed another ounce of colostrum from the bottle I wasn't too worried about her. All morning, we've continued to check on them, trying to make sure they're nursing or taking some more colostrum from the bottle. Mike got another three ounces from Lizzie. Once two kids are successfully nursing on Mom, we'll bottlefeed the third one. The black one appears to be very good at nursing, and the cream one is very good at taking the bottle. Not sure about the brown one yet.

We said good-bye to our apprentice this morning, so now it's up to us to get these little does started on the right track. I'm afraid we still have a bit of a challenge ahead of us.


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