Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Good bye and good riddance 2013!

This past year will go down in history as the worst year of my life, and I am truly hoping that as we turn the page to 2014, all of the pain, death, and just plain bad luck will be behind us. Unfortunately I have recently learned that a 1.5 cm nodule on my thyroid has grown to 1.9 cm and is the reason that my throat has felt swollen for the past month and a half. I have a doctor appointment for Jan. 13 to get it further evaluated, and I really hope that it turns out to be a non-event.

It was a year ago today that my husband and I were at the bedside of his mother as she passed away from cancer. And it had only been a couple days earlier when my little bichon frise (pictured above) had passed away. Looking back now, it seems as if those two deaths were simply the "preview" of the year ahead. In March, Coco, one of my most special goats died from a ruptured uterus after a very difficult delivery with quintuplets. And only a week later, my father-in-law passed away.

Then over the summer, my very first goat, Star, died. She was 14 years old, and she was really slowing down towards the end. I still remember telling her, "This is really not a good time for you to leave me. Please stick around a little while longer." She passed away about six weeks later, and then a week later, Sovalye, our livestock guardian dog of nine years passed away.

As the leaves began to fall from the trees, I started to think that all of the death was behind us, but I was wrong. In the middle of November, we had two goats and a llama contract meningeal worm, a nasty parasite that is common in white tail deer but deadly in other ruminants. We ultimately decided to put down Timpani, but Windy the goat and Katy the llama are still with us and still recovering. Because of the neurological damage done to the spinal column and brain, no one will hazard a guess as to whether or not they'll make a full recovery. Although Katy has finally managed to stand once without assistance, we still have to lift her a couple of times every day, and she can usually manage to take a few steps here and there before collapsing again.

There were a couple of bright spots in the year. I taught an online class called Raising Goats Sustainably for the University of Massachusetts, which was fun and challenging. Imagine teaching a livestock care class online, and not everyone in the class even has access to real live goats. Challenging!

We also had three wonderful interns this year who renewed my enthusiasm for sharing my knowledge and teaching! And I am looking forward to expanding the educational component of the farm in 2014 and beyond.

My third book, Raising Goats Naturally, was published in September. After writing three books in three years, I am taking a break from writing books. There was a part of me that wanted to keep chugging along and write another one, but considering all of the things that have happened lately, I think it's time to relax and rejuvenate. Quite frankly, I feel like I've had the wind knocked out of me.

I've had chronic back pain for about a decade now. I realized from the beginning that it was always much worse during the winter months and attributed that to a possible lack of vitamin D. I would generally be in quite a bit of pain through the winter months, but once spring arrived and I was outdoors more, the pain would gradually lessen. It didn't happen this past summer. And somehow I didn't realize until fall that I had not spent nearly as much time outdoors as usual. I got my vitamin D level tested, and yep, I am deficient, so am now taking much larger doses of supplements than I have taken in previous years. So, #1 on the list of things to do in 2014 is to spend tons of time in the garden next spring, summer, and fall, not only because of the great food it will produce but also because I need lots of sunshine to stay healthy.

At the moment, I am off on a two-week vacation with my daughters Margaret and Katherine. I am hoping to come back rested and rejuvenated and ready to jump back into all of my projects with renewed energy.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Turkey processing

In addition to the heritage turkeys that we raise continually, we also raise a few broad-breasted turkeys from time to time to provide ourselves with ground turkey meat. Why do we use the BB turkeys for ground meat? Because we don't have a family big enough to eat turkeys that weigh 40+ pounds! The pictured turkey weighed 45 pounds. Yes, that's dressed, not live weight.

The first year that we raised BB turkeys and found ourselves with a 43-pound and a 38-pound turkey, we swore we would never raise them again. But then we discovered the joys of ground turkey meat. This year we had three of the big boys in the 40+ weight range, and yes they really were males. The females each weighed 20-something-pounds. Rather than grinding them up, Mike cut strips of meat off of them, which we'll use for soups, stir-fries, and schnitzel. We've already had a delicious cream of turkey and rice soup.

Turkey leg and thigh

The cost of processing ground turkey meat is much cheaper than ground pork, lamb, or beef because the cost of processing a turkey is only $6, and one of these big boys can produce even more meat than a lamb that costs us $45 to process. We do have to do the grinding ourselves, which takes time, but it still works out to be a good deal financially. The really exciting thing is that the dark meat tastes a lot like ground beef when used in chili or hamburgers.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

From chicken tractor to hoop house

Earlier this summer as Mike was building a couple of new chicken tractors, it suddenly occurred to me that once they were no longer housing poultry this fall, they could be covered with greenhouse plastic and used as high tunnels for our winter garden. We first had a winter garden in 2010, using low tunnels, and I loved having fresh greens all winter long, but I did not love crawling around in the snow to harvest them. So, for three years, I've been saying that we need high tunnels, but it had not happened -- until now!

Summer seemed to last forever into the fall months, so we became a little too relaxed about the need to protect the plants in the garden. Floating row covers were working fine through October. But then the weather seemed to switch from summer to winter almost overnight with virtually no fall weather, which made it challenging to get the greenhouse plastic put on the frame. The large rectangles covering the top of the hoophouse are not ideal, but we were racing against time when we put this together, as a storm was brewing. We hope to do something a bit more aesthetically pleasing next year.

This is what the chicken tractor looked like after we removed the blue tarp, which had served as a roof for the ducks that had been living in there through October. The frame fit over the raised bed as if it had been made for it. There was not even an inch to spare.

Now we can walk into the hoop house, where it is warm and toasty during the day, and harvest lettuce. Right after the new year I'm going to start some cabbage and broccoli seeds that will be transplanted in there for an early harvest in the spring. In addition to the greenhouse plastic covering the hoophouse, we also have floating row covers keeping the lettuce warm.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


One of the most frustrating things about dealing with the sick llama and goats was that we never got a chance to enjoy Julia's piglets when they were first born. Since I was busy running down to the vet clinic, I didn't even post the obligatory pictures on the Facebook page! You see, they were born on Nov. 19, which was the day before we took Katy to U of I with meningeal worm. I snapped a mere four newborn pics the day they were born but then never got around to posting any of them until this blog post.

We were initially quite worried about the piglets because it did not appear that Julia was being her usual attentive mama-self. This is her fourth litter, and in the past, she always spent lots of time laying on her side so the newborn piglets could nurse. However, we were all getting worried because hardly anyone ever saw her letting them nurse. Of course, the runt didn't make it, but one of the larger, healthier piglets also died within the first couple of days. I tried to convince myself that we were just probably always walking past when she was taking a break. And that was probably the case.

Ultimately it has worked out for nine of the piglets. They are all big and healthy now and starting to crawl into the feed pan to nibble at the food when we feed Julia. I am strongly considering keeping one of the gilts for breeding. Unlike past litters when she had mostly boars and the gilts were smaller, this litter is seven big, healthy gilts and only two boars. Even though the top photo was taken the day they were born, and the bottom photo was taken yesterday, you can't really see how much they've grown.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Canning catastrophe

With all the excitement around here lately, you may have noticed that I haven't been blogging much. And when I do blog, it's been about the meningeal worm issues we were dealing with. But, of course, life goes on, even in the midst of medical issues with the animals, so I'm going to work on catching up with some of the things that have been happening around here.

In early November our intern Jane was working on canning the apple harvest when disaster suddenly struck. She had already done quite a bit of canning, so I wasn't really paying close attention to what she was doing because she seemed to have mastered the techniques pretty well.

One day she was canning apples and called me into the kitchen when she lifted the lid off the canner and saw this! The lids had blown off some of the jars.

As she lifted the exploded jars out of the canner, the other jars began to float also.

And there were cooked apples stuck to the back of the stove! Obviously they had shot out at a pretty high pressure.

She asked me what went wrong, and I really had no idea. We went over everything she'd done ... filling the jars, leaving head space, tightening the lids, and so on. She had done everything exactly the same as always, and this had never happened before.

When she took the jars out of the canner and sat them on the counter, the apples began to ooze out and run down the sides of the jars. It was also obvious that the apples were floating in the jars, and we could see lots of air bubbles between the apples that had not been there when the jars had been put into the canner. I wonder if the apples were too ripe and some sort of fermentation thing had started to happen, even though the apples didn't seem fermented?

We finally decided that it must have something to do with the fact that these were quartered apples rather than something that had already been cooked, such as preserves or applesauce, which she had made with no problem. Jane decided to make applesauce with the next batch. Unfortunately, the same thing happened again. I searched online and couldn't find anything. I even asked friends who canned, and no one had any ideas. So, if you have any ideas, do share! We'll be canning apples again next year!

Applesauce leaking out of jars after canning
Additional info -- in response to questions asked by a few readers -- (1) Both of these batches were hot pack. (2) No jars broke; only lids blew off. (3) There was one thing different between these two batches and the other canning we had done. These were Granny Smith apples, and it was November, so they were "older" than the Yellow Delicious we had been canning in October. I know canning recipes always say to use fruit at the peak of ripeness, so maybe they were too ripe? Also, our Granny Smith apples are not the type that stand up to cooking. When we make an apple crisp, in only 25 minutes baking, the apples go from slices to the consistency of applesauce.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Book and soap specials for the holidays

I had totally planned to offer a few special deals to help you with your holiday shopping a couple of weeks ago, but the goats and llamas were rather distracting. (They are doing much better, thank you!) I did offer these specials to readers of my Thrifty Homesteader blog but didn't manage to get them on here. So, here you go! Offers are good through midnight Wednesday. Free shipping on the books is via media rate, so we can't guarantee arrival before Christmas, but the odds are pretty good that they will get there in time. Soap or the combined soap and books are shipped via Priority Mail so should arrive to most parts of the U.S. within two days. Sorry but we can only provide free shipping to the continental U.S.

Whether you want to buy goat milk soap or learn to raise your own goats and make your own soap, we have something special for you!

Book specials

Two book special: Autographed copies of Homegrown and Handmade and Raising Goats Naturally (one each) for $35 with FREE shipping. (Cover price is $47.90.)


Three book special: Autographed copies of Homegrown and Handmade, Ecothrifty, and Raising Goats Naturally (one each) for $49 with FREE shipping. (Cover price is $65.85.)

Just soap

Four bars of goat milk soap made with organic oils! Each bar will be scented with a different essential oil, chosen from the following list: lavender, peppermint, Siberian fir tree (smells like a Christmas tree), orange, tea tree, lavender-spearmint, lavender-grapefruit, orange-cinnamon, lemon-lime, rosemary-peppermint, or lemon-spearmint (regular price $24) for $20 with FREE shipping.


Ten bars of our goat milk soap, each one scented with a different essential oil from the above list. Regular price is $60, but until Monday, you can get 10 bars for $45 with FREE shipping.


If you prefer unscented soap, try our three bar unscented special -- one bar each of plain unscented, unscented with oatmeal, and unscented with coffee for only $15 with FREE shipping. (Regular price $18.)


Books and soap combinations

Get the three book special with four bars of goat milk soap for only $60 with FREE shipping. (Regular price $89.85)

If you would like to purchase individual bars of soap and choose your own scents, you can always visit the Antiquity Oaks website. To buy individual copies of the books, visit the Buy page of the Thrifty Homesteader website.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Is someone trying to tell me something?

The past few weeks have been rather overwhelming and a bit of a blur. It will be three weeks on Tuesday since Katy went down and this terrible adventure began. Of course, it was almost a week earlier than that when we found Timpani laying in the snow with hypothermia one morning, and I thought she had "simply" suffered a spinal cord injury, probably fighting with another goat about going into the shelter.

Now, after quite an emotional roller coaster and a $1700 vet bill, we have one less goat, another goat that holds her head cock-eyed and walks crooked, and a llama that is still partially paralyzed. Timpani's gross necropsy results did confirm meningeal worm, but they are doing additional lab work, which has not yet been completed.

Windy is on her feet all the time, but she is certainly in no condition to rejoin the herd. Yesterday we decided to move her from a kidding pen, which is only five-by-ten feet, to a ten-by-ten foot pen in the main barn, and to put another yearling mini mancha doe in there with her for company. Unfortunately the other doe did not recognize her obvious physical advantage and insisted on being a jerk to Windy, butting her, and trying to keep her away from the hay.

When I went in there last night to give them more hay, Windy decided to make a run for it when she saw the door open, and she -- of course -- ran crookedly and ran smack into my left kneecap, knocking it out of place. I had two surgeries on that knee when I was a teenager because the kneecap would go out of place randomly, and even after the surgeries, it is very loose. I fell to the ground screaming and then proceeded to cry hysterically for about fifteen minutes. I'd love to believe that Windy was trying to say she was sorry as she kept walking up to me, but I don't think it's a coincidence that she always went to the side of me that put me between her and Livi the other doe. At that moment, the only thing I could think was, "This is what I get for saving your life?" and "I have no business on a farm! I am too old for this!"

I eventually hobbled into the house and put a bag of frozen chopped collard greens on my knee and sat on the couch with the phone so I could call my husband and tell him that I couldn't finish evening chores. He was down in the creek fixing the fence where one of the llamas had escaped earlier in the day. Just when we were ready to start evening chores, a neighbor let us know that one of our llamas was visiting her place, and when I looked out the window, I saw him running down the road!

Add to all of this the fact that my chronic back pain has become debilitating the first hour or two after I wake up every morning, and I was really feeling that I was getting too old for this lifestyle. The feeling of "I can't do this anymore!" has become a recurring thought these past few weeks. And I half-heartedly prayed, "God, if you really don't want me to do this anymore, couldn't you just send me a nice message, like a job offer that's too good to refuse at a university?"

A bit later I was checking my email, and in my GoogleAlerts for "goats," there was this story about a 900-goat dairy in Ontario that burned to the ground last night. And I started crying. Simply the thought of losing all my goats in a fire was horrifying. I told my husband and son about the fire, and my son said, "See Mom, someone else is having a worse day than you." Oh, my goodness! Yes! How could I possibly think that I would sell my goats and move away from here simply because we're having a few challenges? I know that if our barn caught fire today, even with my bad knee and other aches and pains, I'd be running out there trying to save every last goat.

Yes, life is particularly challenging right now. But life will always be challenging, regardless of where you live or what you do. But like that man who says he is going to start his dairy again, we have to deal with our challenges and move on.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Katy and Windy home at last!

Mike and I went to the University of Illinois vet clinic to pick up Windy the goat and Katy the llama, along with her cria Oscar.

Katy finally started peeing and pooping again, but she still can't stand up on her own. I can now add "llama physical therapy" to my resume. We have to lift her so that she spends two, 20-minute periods standing every day, morning and afternoon. 

Yesterday morning, my daughter Margaret who was still here from Ft. Worth where she is an electrical engineer, helped me lift her four or five times. Katy never managed to stand for more than about four minutes before her back end would collapse, and she would be sitting there like a dog. Much of the time she spent standing, she actually spent with her back end leaning against the human who was next to her. This morning, she actually stood for 15 minutes! We figured that standing for one 15 minute stretch was probably better than several smaller stretches, so didn't get her up again.

Lifting her is interesting. First we put our hand under her chest or stomach, and since Katy is a llama, she is offended that a mere human is touching her, so she pushes the front half of her body up with her front legs. Then we put a towel under her and move it so that it is under the back half of her body. With one person holding each end of the towel on each side of the llama, we lift! Sometimes it is easier than others, depending upon how much Katy is able to help.

Unfortunately, this means that Oscar is only able to nurse twice a day. When Katy first went down, she was on her side, and Oscar was able to nurse as much as he wanted, but now she is strong enough to stay "kushed" properly (llama language for the prone position pictured at right) which means her teats are inaccessible to him.

As for Windy -- like most bottle babies, she has always been too friendly for her own good, but after being poked with needles more than a dozen times in the last week (including a spinal tap), she ran when I opened the gate of her pen at the clinic. She is quite healthy and able-bodied, although she tends to twist her body a little to the right, and she can't walk in a straight line. (You can see how she holds her head crooked in the second picture.) But considering the fact that she was minutes away from death last week, this is truly remarkable. Still, it could be weeks or months before the final neurologic symptoms go away. Then again, she may never be completely normal again. But considering how close she was to death last week, I have to assume that she is still with us for a reason. 


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