Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sheep rescue

After living on a farm for a few years, you feel like you've seen it all, but then you know that you will always have new challenges. But you can't imagine what they will be. And you assume that they will probably just be variations on a theme. Right?

Well, after last night's adventure, I'm actually kind of surprised that we haven't had this happen before. We do have a ridiculous number of thorny trees and bushes on our property, and I've picked out my share of thorns from wool after shearing. But I certainly never expected to have to rescue a sheep from a thorny bush!

Yesterday afternoon as Jane and I were about to head out to do evening chores, Jonathan came inside and told us that a ewe lamb was stuck in a bush. He said he tried to get her out, but it was impossible. We grabbed a pair of scissors and headed out to the sheep pasture. Jonathan sat down with the ewe in his lap while Jane started cutting the ewe's wool to get her free. It became obvious fairly quickly that this was not going to be an easy job. Notice in that top picture how there is wool all over the branches in every square inch of that photo? Well, that little ewe had apparently panicked herself to such a degree that her wool was severely twisted up with the thorny branches!

I headed back to the house to get another pair of scissors and a pair of pruning shears so that I could help Jane. Once I got back with the pruning shears, I was able to cut off the branches, so that at least we were not all being poked while we were trying to rescue her.

It looks like she has a bush growing out of her back, doesn't it!

We finally realized that it would have taken hours to get all of those branches cut out of her wool if we just continued using scissors -- and dusk was rapidly approaching. Jonathan and Jane agreed to carry the ewe back to the barn so that we could use sheep shears.

And that's what we did! Sheep shears are big, scary, and loud, and I was really nervous about accidentally cutting the little ewe, but I didn't, which made all of us very happy. Obviously I couldn't take a picture of the shearing because I was the one running the shears, but here is the big wad of wool and sticks that was ultimately cut off! Notice my little hand in the lower left corner of the above photo.

Then Jane continued picking out the last few little sticks that were left.

Unfortunately the thorns had damaged her skin and ripped out some wool by the roots. Ouch! We sprayed iodine on her injuries before putting her back in the pasture with the other sheep.

And we were all very surprised that she didn't actually look that bad after her very bad haircut!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Interns, apprentices, and volunteers

If you've been around for awhile, you may remember my post about The challenge with apprentices last year. Thankfully, I've learned a few things in the past year, and we've had some new experiences. As Joel Salatin says in his latest book, Field of Farmers: Interning, Mentoring, Partnering, Germinating,
This is my best advice right now. I'm sure I'll learn something more tomorrow, but this is what I think today.
We've had three excellent apprentices this year, so I am ready to officially start looking for interns and apprentices for next year. I had completely stopped advertising last year, but didn't actually delete the apprentice page from our website, and three very motivated young ladies found the application and applied. And the rest (as they say) is history. We've had a really excellent time getting to know them, and it's been fun watching them learn and grow. If you want to know more about our apprentice program, click on the link to visit our website.

On the other hand, we've had two less-than-stellar experiences with people volunteering on an intermittent basis. I've come to the conclusion (which was reinforced by reading Joel's book) that people really do need to be on the farm day after day to learn farming skills. The hardest thing about people who volunteer for a day occasionally is that it is challenging to give them meaningful things to do. Usually the first time you do something with a new person, it takes far longer than it would if you were doing it alone because you are doing lots of explaining. And they don't know how to do it after doing it only once, which means you have to continue to help them with each new chore multiple times. This doesn't seem like such a big deal when someone is staying on the farm and will be there for several months.

The things that don't take a lot of extra time are things that are not fun -- like mucking out the barn or turning the compost pile. We've had a few conversations with our current apprentice about how we could utilize volunteers in a meaningful way, but we haven't come up with a great idea. I get quite a few requests from people who live within 100 miles and would like an internship experience but can't commit to staying on the farm due to their own life commitments, so I wish I could figure out how to provide an educational experience for them. I'm afraid that the best thing for them would be a program where they pay for a one-week crash course in farming, but that isn't something I'm ready to develop. But as Joel says, "I'm sure I'll learn something more tomorrow, but this is what I think today."

If you're interested in being a mentor or an intern -- on any farm -- I highly recommend Joel's book, Fields of Farmers. I'm not quite done with it, but when I finish, I'll be posting a review on my Thrifty Homesteader blog.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Visit with future farmers

We had a visit on Wednesday from an agricultural marketing club at Illinois State University. Their project this year is to create a marketing plan for the American Guinea Hog, and they were referred to me by the Livestock Conservancy as being a breeder near them. Since I am very interested in educating future farmers, as well as promoting rare breeds, I was more than happy to have them come over to meet our hogs and see our farm.

We had a great visit! Not only was it the first time they had seen guinea hogs in person, it was also the first time most of them had seen pigs on pasture, as well as pigs that were being raised naturally, meaning they had never been injected with anything and they still had their tails. Supermarket hogs in this country are raised in big buildings and have their teeth and tails clipped at birth. They are also given iron injections and a number of routine vaccines, as well as antibiotics in their feed. Our pigs get none of that -- and thrive.

Although some of the students were quiet and reserved, a few seemed really excited about the guinea hogs and our way of raising them. The students will be putting together their marketing plan towards the end of this semester, which I am really excited about! It will be interesting to see how people with backgrounds in conventional agriculture promote virtues in a hog that is the polar opposite of everything in commercial ag today. And of course, it would be really exciting if even one of these students decided to raise guineas hogs someday!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mother Earth News Fair in their own backyard

The past couple weeks have been crazy. Early last week I was getting ready for the Mother Earth News Fair, and then I headed out on Friday. This year the Mother Earth News Fair folks decided to stage an event in their own community -- Lawrence, KS -- and it was great. It was smaller than the events held in Pennsylvania and Washington State, and it was held in a park. It felt smaller than it was because the park was smaller than the other two venues, but the attendance wasn't that much smaller 10,000 versus the 12-14,000 that the other events draw.

One nice thing about having the event in the MEN backyard is that Mother Earth News Publisher Bryan Welch invited the speakers to his ranch for a party on Friday night. And of course, several of us asked for a tour of Rancho Cappuccino. Forget the fancy party tent and the band! We want to see livestock! And Bryan was happy to oblige.

Unfortunately most of his goats and sheep were not so cooperative, as they were way far off in the pasture, so we didn't get a great view of them. However, these are some ram lambs (above) that will soon become lamb chops.

And his breeding rams were more than happy to pose for pictures. It was almost dark, and I was using my phone's camera, so these pictures came out looking really artsy -- more like a painting than a photograph.

And I was also excited to see solar panels on Bryan's barn roof. He said that the panels produce enough electricity to pretty much meet their needs, although their system is tied into the local grid so that they have electricity even when the sun hasn't been shining for a few days. We've talked about putting solar panels on our barn roof, so it's good to see someone else has already tried it, and it's working fine. My husband was worried that the panels might be too heavy for our barn roof, so he'll probably want to talk to Bryan when he sees this post.

The Fair was great! I spoke about Ecothrifty Bread, Ecothrifty Living, and Raising Goats Naturally. It sure is interesting trying to condense a whole book into a one-hour talk of the most important points. My goat talk was at the same time that Temple Grandin was presenting, so I was worried that no one would show up -- but I figured that I would know that everyone at my talk really loved goats. To my surprise, the seats in the tent quickly filled up until there was standing room only.

Ecothrifty and Raising Goats Naturally both sold out in the bookstore, and the local public library had a copy of Ecothrifty sitting on their table. They asked if they could take a picture of me holding the book. It hasn't shown up on their Facebook page yet, so maybe they'll be using it for something else. Too bad I didn't get contact info for the woman there because I forgot to get any pictures of myself doing anything all weekend.

Overall, it was a great event. I arrived home late Monday night and was back in the barn Tuesday morning milking the goats.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

My television debut

by Agnes the goat

Those of you who follow me on Twitter already know that on Friday we taped my first television appearance. The show will air tomorrow afternoon on Paula Sands Live in Davenport, Iowa and the Quad Cities area.  My daughter Marie and I went with my milk maid Deborah, who wrote a book about goats recently. The other goats and I taught her everything she knows, so of course, she had to bring us along to publicly thank me and the other does back home for all of our assistance.

First of all, I have to say that I was really disappointed in the travel accommodations. I was shocked and horrified to discover that we were expected to travel to the TV studio in dog crates! Oh, yes, we each got our own private crate, and they were big enough for us to stand up and turn around, and they were filled with fluffy straw, and we were even given some hay for snacking, but really -- dog crates! We are caprines not canines!

When we arrived at the studio, the farm apprentice Jane escorted us into the building. We were taken in the back entrance -- the one that only the most famous people use! First they took us into the studio, and Marie started to poop on the floor. They asked us to go into a room called the "garage," which I assume is their term for the green room. Being my first time on television, I've never seen a green room before, but I sure expected it to look a lot nicer than it did. It reminded me of the front of the barn at home where the goatherd stores his tools and stuff.

A couple of people walked through the green room and asked what we were doing in there. I suppose this is the most special green room that only gets used for the biggest celebrities, and they wanted to be sure that we were important enough to be in there. Then more people came through and asked if they could pet me and Marie. Before we knew it, there were people having their pictures taken with us, including Greg the weatherman. I overheard my milk maid say that she never received that kind of attention when she's been at TV stations in the past. Obviously, the people in Iowa know true greatness when they see it.

When we went into the studio for the promo shot -- that's when they videotape us as Paula is doing a voice-over saying that goats will be in the next segment -- they asked us to stand on a rug in front of some beautiful plants that didn't smell good enough to eat. In fact, I've never smelled plants like those before. They didn't make me the least bit hungry. How strange! Marie and I both squatted to pee on the pretty rug, and people started gasping. You would think they'd never seen a goat pee before! Come to think of it, I've never seen a human pee, so maybe it isn't something they're capable of doing, which is why there were so impressed. Then we stood up and started to poop, and I heard more gasps and cries of, "Oh, no!" I really did not see the big deal. No one ever cared when we peed or pooped before!

Then they started talking about having us stay on the pretty rug. Earlier they said we would be with Deborah on the main set during the interview. There was a lot of talk about cleaning carpets. What does that have to do with our interview? We're here to talk about the greatness of goats and our wonderful milk, which we share with the barn servants so they can make cheese and soap.

So, Paula sat down with my milk maid, and the cameras were rolling. They talked about the book and our awesome milk. Paula tasted the chévre and showed off the soap that the barn servants made with our milk. Then Paula asked my milk maid about us, and Deborah introduced us but completely forgot to tell everyone how we helped her write the book! I was disappointed, but I suppose I should not have been surprised. After all, humans think they are so smart. Silly people even think they are smarter than us caprines. The simple truth is that my milk maid could not have written that book without us!

As we were getting ready to leave, Paula said she wanted to get her picture taken with us, so of course we obliged.

When my milk maid and the apprentice put us back into the dog crates (ugh!) for the ride home, they told us we were good goats (well, duh!) and gave us something called corn "chips," which didn't look like any corn that I'd ever seen before, although it smelled similar. I tried to resist eating them, thinking they might have been poisonous, but the humans left a few in the crate with me, and after a little while, I finally nibbled on one, and it tasted okay, so I ate all of them. I heard the humans talking about another television appearance in a few weeks. I do hope I get a luxurious travel trailer next time.

Marie and I were exhausted by the time we got home, and we spent the rest of the day lounging under a hickory tree while the rest of the herd was browsing around the pond.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Castration day

For the first time since 2008, I castrated lambs. It was in 2009 that I discovered that I could get just as much meat from an intact lamb at six months as I could with a castrated lamb at a year or more, which was after feeding him through the winter. So, why put the little guys through castration and buy hay for them when they can grow so much faster with the aid of their own testosterone?

I am not entirely sure what happened this year, but only about a third of the ram lambs are big enough to be worth the cost to butcher, so we decided to castrate the little guys and let them stick around a little longer. About a third of the boys were only a little smaller than normal sized, but the last third were tiny little things. Maybe they were inbred? It was a bit of a free for all last fall, so it would have been a miracle if there wasn't at least some inbreeding.

These are the three rams that have their date with destiny next week. I got a little carried away taking pictures of them. They are handsome boys!

The others will be spending the winter with us and be sent to the locker sometime next year, probably depending upon when the grass slows down.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Acorn harvest

It's that time of year again -- the time that we used to hate, before we had the American Guinea Hogs. Acorns are falling from the trees. During our pre-hog years, it was a time of great danger, when simply walking across the driveway could result in a twisted ankle or bruised bum due to the "walking on marbles" situation provided by Mother Nature.

One of the reasons that I wanted Guinea Hogs is because they are friendly enough that we can easily lead them wherever we want them to go. We simply hold a bucket of whey or other yummy food in front of them, and they will follow us to the ends of the earth. In this case, they only had to follow us as far as the driveway. As soon as they realized they were surrounded by acorns, they went to work eating them. I didn't see a single hog laying down on the job the first day. The second day I did see some of them taking a nap mid-day.

The first year we just let them into the front yard and that was a mistake. When they got bored with the acorns, they went exploring and got into the barn to eat the chicken grain. They also destroyed a welded wire fence that separated them from the chicken yard.

So, now we use a single hot wire about eight inches off the ground charged by this nifty solar charger. Only eight inches off the ground, you say? Yep, pigs don't jump, so that works just fine to keep them inside the area under the big oak tree. That's right at nose level, and if they touch it, they let out a little squeal and run away. And it is really easy for us to step over the wire "fence" when walking through the yard.


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