Friday, July 26, 2013

Hasta la vista, cattle

 Mama Cow Bridget and baby Ciara last summer
I finally did it. I really did eliminate a species from Antiquity Oaks. I know you didn't think I'd ever do it. I've been talking about selling the cattle or the sheep for the last two years, but I haven't really put any effort into it. And I still didn't put much effort into it, but it happened.

More than a month ago, I got an email from someone asking if I knew where they could buy a couple of feeder Irish Dexters -- feeders are cattle raised just for meat. I said that I didn't know anyone who sold feeder Dexters, but I was selling my two cows and the heifer. A few more emails and a month later, and we found ourselves loading up the cattle.

Molly with her little bull, which we called Sir Loin
last summer
We still had the little dun bull and the yearling bull that we had bought for breeding, and we wanted to take them to the locker for processing because we love our grassfed beef. I coordinated schedules so that we could take the bulls to the locker the same morning that the cows were leaving so that the boys would not have to deal with the stress of losing the girls before heading off to meet their destiny.

No one could remember how we had loaded up the bulls the year before, so we all came to the conclusion that it must have been easy and unremarkable. But no one really believed it could have been that easy. We knew we would have to move them all into a small pen and then get the bulls separated from the cows and loaded onto a tiny two-horse trailer.

My job was to keep the girls occupied with alfalfa while Mike and Jonathan lured the bulls into the trailer with alfalfa. And to our complete shock, it actually worked. And it worked quickly! Both bulls were loaded and ready to leave in less than ten minutes.

When the buyer came to get the girls a couple hours later, things did not go quite as smoothly. Bridget, being the most outgoing of the cows, was quick to follow whomever was offering her alfalfa, and she'd even follow him into the trailer ... but only her front half. As soon as her rear legs touched the trailer floor, she'd back out. This little dance went on for about half an hour, but finally she decided the lure of the alfalfa was stronger than her fear of lifting up those rear legs and putting her whole body into the trailer.

There is a part of me that really misses the cows, but there is a bigger part of me that is relieved. I will definitely miss the grassfed beef, but the bulls dressed out at 384 and 346 pounds, and we're keeping the 384 pounder, so we'll continue to enjoy the beef for another year or two. I am relieved, however, that we will never again discover that we have to retrieve cows from someone else's yard a mile away. And luckily, Mike and our children were always home when that happened. My big fear was that I would be home alone someday and get one of those phone calls. I really don't know how I would have ever brought the cows home if they had escaped when I was home alone.

I suppose it was hard for me to sell the cattle because it felt like admitting defeat. I had so wanted to milk them and make cheese and other dairy products from their milk as we do with the goats. But we never got set up to milk cows. We didn't have a head gate or stanchion for milking them, and we couldn't even keep the cows separated from their calves successfully overnight. Moving Bridget the horned black cow from pasture to barn and back again was scary, even though I'm sure she would never intentionally try to hurt us. It is unnerving to see two big swords moving towards your chest propelled by 800 pounds of muscle.

My youngest daughter who is home for a couple of days asked, "So, does this mean you'll never have cows again?"

"I never say never," I said with a smile.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

End of an era

Star in fall 2009
There was never an Antiquity Oaks without Moonshine Acres Starlett Moment *D, my first milk goat, until Saturday. Mike came inside to tell me that he found her in the corner of the goat shelter, looking as if she were peacefully sleeping. It was not a huge shock because we've noticed for the past six weeks that she has been moving more slowly, spending more time lying down in the pasture alone, rather than grazing with the herd.

Star with her triplet doelings in 2008
Even though I pronounced Star retired in 2008, it is hard to imagine our homestead without her. She's been here since the beginning. I had put a deposit on her and an unrelated doeling when we still lived in the suburbs, shortly after we had found this place we now call home. While we were waiting to close on this property, Star needed to raise her kids until they were old enough to wean.

It's ironic that I originally was not interested in her because I thought she was ugly. While many people love spotted goats, I preferred the solid colors. But when her owner told me that she would probably have a good milk supply because she was nursing triplets, I was sold. I could overlook all of those ugly spots if this goat could supply us with fresh goat milk, which I intended to use to make "goat cheese." At that time, I had no idea that goat milk could be used to make anything other than the cheese that I was soon to learn was more correctly called chévre.

The picture of Star on Patty Putnam's website when she was for sale
We brought Star home on Mother's Day in 2002, and I put her on a milkstand that Mike had made using a picture I found on the internet. The head gate was far too high and too big for a Nigerian, so he had to make some last minute adjustments to keep her head in place. But milking her was another adventure. She had been nursing babies since she freshened, so she was not happy when I put my hands on her teats with the intention of taking her milk. She kicked over the bucket and glared at me. For years, I joked, "How many city slickers does it take to milk a goat?" The answer was four -- two to sweet talk her and try to convince her to eat her grain, one to hold her hind legs and keep her from kicking over the bucket, and one to actually extract the milk.

Within a week her milkstand etiquette had improved considerably, and I could milk her by myself, although it took me a long time, and I knew I wasn't getting all of the milk. Each day that first week, I got less and less milk, but luckily my technique improved quickly enough for her supply to rebound, and for several months, she supplied us with a quart of milk a day, the standard quantity for Nigerians usually quoted in books and articles. In spite of all my novice mistakes -- some too embarrassing to share -- she survived, and for the first few years, she was our best milk goat.

Star's great granddaughter Agnes
with Star's spots and long teats
Star was a great homestead goat, but not one that was outstanding in the show ring or the milk pail or even as a brood doe. She had nice, long teats that forever spoiled me and became the benchmark against which I would forever judge all other milkers. She'd peak at about half a gallon a day and then sustain a long lactation, milking for twelve months when she was six years old. I always hoped she would give us a daughter that was as awesome as she was, and even though my definition of awesome was far less demanding a decade ago than it is today, her daughters were always terribly disappointing. In the greatest of ironies, however, her sons did throw remarkably good daughters. Like many novices who don't have a clue about breeding, I kept a couple of bucks early on, and somehow I got incredibly lucky. One of Star's sons, John Adams, sired ARMCH Antiquity Oaks Carmen *D VG. Another son, Mercury, sired Antiquity Oaks Anne Bronte 4*D VG, an excellent milker (with her grandma's long teats) who gave birth to AOF Agnes Grey 5*D, one of my favorite milk goats today, no doubt because she has her great-grandmother's long teats.

Antiquity Oaks LogoStar has always been a big part of everything that is Antiquity Oaks. She is the goat in the farm logo. My daughter reminded me today that when I first started making and selling goat milk soap, my labels read, "Milk by Star and Dancy; Soap by Deborah." Back then, it never occurred to me that Star wouldn't be with me forever.

When Coco died this spring after giving birth to quintuplets, I was heart-broken, not only because she was gone but because of the way she died. I always pictured my goats retiring out here and then living a few more years relaxing in our green pastures and enjoying life with their daughters and granddaughters. And I am grateful that is what happened with Star. I don't suppose I could ask for anything more.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Three months gone

by Sarah
former Antiquity Oaks apprentice

I cannot believe I left Antiquity Oaks almost three months ago already. But I guess that is what happens when you come home and almost immediately begin working a 43-hour work week as a farm hand on two farms. It has been very intense, and I already have a decent farmers tan, but it has been so enjoyable.

I can honestly say I will never forget my time on Antiquity Oaks. I learned more than I could have imagined in those nine weeks.

The first time I milked a goat I never thought I would be doing it on my own, but I did, every evening after a while. It was awesome being so thoroughly trusted and knowing I was doing a good job. Mike said it too and I wholeheartedly agree, one of the best parts about milking is getting to spend a little one on one time with each of the milk goats. I got to learn their personalities; who wanted a quick milk, who would complain if you squeezed a little too hard, whose hooves grew fastest. The cold nights were the best because many of them would let you snuggle right up against their side while you were milking them.

I can honestly say I never knew that the wool that clothes are made out of was not the same thing as what came right off of the sheep. Once I felt the difference however, there is no mistaking it. Washing makes all the difference, and I can no longer remember how many fleeces I washed into wool those last couple weeks. It is amazing how a little bit of dish detergent and hot water can change a matted mess of fleece into beautiful piece of wool to be sent off to be made into rugs.

Before I arrived on the farm I was incredibly excited about being the bottle-fed babies nanny. I fell in love with bottle feeding, and the babies. I got to spend time holding each one, learning their color differences, learning their voices, and learning their eyes. In the end I had 8 I was in charge of. At that point, on the very cold days, it became more of a chore, but I loved being able to tell everyone who asked about each ones personality, their colors, their habits, and their eyes. Losing one of my babies was one of the hardest times I have ever gone through. Not only did I learn how to feed babies, wash bottles to prevent mildew, and all about the digestive system changes that happen within the first few days of birth, I learned more about love from those 8 little babies than just about any one person has taught me. A TV show I was watching a few days ago said, “The bond between bottle baby and Mom is stronger than almost any other bond on Earth.” Boy do I believe that. I never thought I could say I was proud of an animal, but boy am I proud of how those babies grew, and hope to keep tabs on them throughout their lives and treasure their accomplishments whether it be milk production or show titles.

I started a phrase a while through my internship; “I dislike intact males.” There are a few animals who made me say this. 1, the one old rooster who has large spurs, and HATES people. As soon as you turn your back on him he would be attacking you. 2, Dolce the intact male lama. He had free roam of much of the property, like all of the guardian llamas, and so I was never quite sure where he was, and he could sneak up on you without making a sound. He was the only llama who stared you in the face, and it was kind of creepy. He made me nervous sometimes. 3, Pegasus, the oldest buck (male goat). He was a bottle baby, so thought people were like him, and he LOVED to rub the top of his head on anything he could reach. The only thing he could reach was the lower part of my legs. Not bad if he did it on the calf, felt like a massage, but it hurt SO BAD on my shins. He also loved to jump on the door and make it almost impossible  to open the stall door. 4, Molly’s bull calf. One day Molly decided to bust down the gate and go in with the goats, and in the process of getting her back in, her bull calf went in with the goats and then got VERY upset he was away from his Mom. No injuries, nothing even close, but just unnerving. In reality, this was just a funny expression I started saying. What these 4 especially taught me is that nature needs to be respected, and that getting lazy and not being careful every time you are working with animals could get you hurt.

I learned a lot about minerals, their importance, what forms and how much each animal needs, in order to keep them as healthy as possible. I have learned the signs of certain mineral deficiencies. I have learned how pasture grass plays into their mineral needs.

I learned all about fencing, how especially how no fencing is appropriate for all livestock. It amazed me how some animals could just blow through or over fencing when they were really determined to get onto the other side.

There are so many more things I learned, that will have to be made into another post.

I miss the farm almost every day. I miss how much the animals needed me, and how excited they were to see you every day. I miss milking, the intimacy of it, the skill required, and the quite time to think. I miss how much I was learning. Almost every single day there was something new to be learned and experienced. It will be an experience I will never forget, and something I will cherish the rest of my life.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Our new canoe

We are now the proud owners of a canoe. Originally my husband's mom gave it to one of her other sons who wanted it for paddling along a river near their home in New York. But they decided it was too unstable and gave it to us. After all, we actually need some type of small watercraft and have killed three inflatable boats over the years. We gave up on the inflatable boats and have simply waded out into our pond when necessary. This means braving leaches and snapping turtles in the best of times. Sometimes this is even more unpleasant, however ... like when you need to fix the aerator in late fall when the water it close to freezing. Luckily my husband has survived such ordeals in the past, but it is not the kind of thing he ever wanted to repeat, so having a real canoe is quite exciting for us. Within the first day, we decided to take it out on the pond for a little spin.

Julia the American Guinea Hog was quite curious about the canoe and followed Mike all the way to the water's edge. She was probably wondering if she could eat it. Food is pretty much the only thing Julia seems to think about. I totally understand why people equate overeating with being a pig.

The goats were also quite curious about us being on the water.

And it was fun for me to see things from a different perspective, such as the back of our house

and the chicken house.

And we can pick mulberries that were previously inaccessible to us!

And of course, now we have a better way to access the aerator when it needs attention. And if another turkey tries to fly across the pond and fails, we'll be able to rescue her in style! I do agree with my brother-in-law though that it does provide a shaky ride. I don't think I'd be too excited to travel down a river in it, but it's perfect for our little pond!


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