Sunday, April 30, 2006

More lambs ... and waiting for more kids

A storm woke me at 2 a.m. I thought about all the new lambs in the pasture, hoping their mothers had led them to shelter, hoping they weren't getting soaked and chilled, which would kill them quickly. After the sun rose, Mike went out to the pasture to find all the lambs doing well, and two new ewe lambs! They had been born recently, as the mother had not yet passed her placenta. I'm excited to finally have a little panda-bear-looking ewe! So far, we've always had rams born with the black body and white head, socks and tail. You can tell the little white and black spotted ewe isn't completely dry yet in this photo.

Today we had two families pick up four goats. The first couple picked up two. They are from Iowa and are starting a show herd. The second customer was a widow from Indiana who just wants some pet goats. I wish all my goats could go to a home like hers. She talked about how she's been showing everyone Eve's picture for the past three weeks as she waited to pick her up.

This afternoon, Margaret informed me that Scandal the goat was in labor. She sat with her for about an hour, then I took over while she and Jonathan went to town to see a movie. I took a new novel with me out there, and 179 pages later, we still don't have any new kids. Scandal has clearly been enjoying the company. She untied my shoe laces, sniffed at my book, and spent most of her time just lieing next to me. She is wanting more of the red raspberry leaves, which are supposed to help strengthen the uterus.

Last year, Scandal's birth happened so quickly, I think we're all a little paranoid. Katherine came inside during morning chores to tell me she was in labor, so I went out there and told Katherine to come inside for breakfast. "There's no reason for both of us to be hungry," I said. Only a few minutes after Katherine left, Scandal started giving birth, and I was stuck out there without any clean towels to dry the babies. She effortlessly (seemed that way) pushed four baby goats into the world so quickly! Of course, now I look back and think that we really have no idea how long she was in labor when Katherine spotted her pushing during morning chores. She could have been laboring all night.

I'm not sure what we'll be doing when morning comes if Scandal hasn't given birth yet, because we have to take our little buck to the vet to have the cast removed from his leg. At the moment, Margaret is with Scandal again. When I went to leave shortly after 10 p.m., Scandal -- huge, pregnant Scandal tried to jump out of the stall and follow me! Oh my, did that scare me! So, I called to Margaret over the baby monitor, and she came outside to labor watch. If we didn't have that appointment at 10:20 tomorrow morning, I'd be hoping that she'd just hold out until morning; however, since we do have that appointment, I'm thinking that a middle-of-the-night birth might not be such a bad thing. Unless I hear Margaret calling me over the baby monitor fairly quickly, I'll be sleeping with it next to my bed, so I'll wake up when I hear her bleating. She's such a stoic goat though, I know I won't have a lot of time to get out there from when she makes the first noises, so I also need to have my farm clothes sitting on the chair in my bedroom, ready to be pulled on as soon as I'm awakened. This is the most fun time of year, but also the most difficult.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


It's raining today. Combine that with my bum ankle, and I'm not doing much outside today. I'm glad I got out yesterday and saw the new lambs. I can't imagine anyone looking at baby animals and not smiling. It always makes me so happy when I see them. We are also expecting Scandal the goat to kid around May 2, so she is getting close. She had quads last year, and she's pretty big again this year, so ... might be quads again. We'll just have to wait and see.

I just had to add another picture of the new lambs! Spotted lambs are so cute! You don't really breed for color with goats because their main purpose is dairy, but with the sheep, you're breeding for wool, so I can indulge my desire for beautiful colors and spots!

Today I put my soft goat cheese into the molds to drain. Last night, the milk was mixed with the culture and sat overnight to separate into curds and whey. With only a gallon of Nigerian dwarf milk, I can fill up eight of the chevre molds, which equals about two pounds of cheese. A gallon of standard goat milk only fills up four, because their butterfat is about half what the Nigerian milk is. I did four molds with plain cheese, two with dill and garlic, and two with fresh basil that I had chopped up in the food processor. Then the molds sit on a cookie rack on top of a baking pan, which collects the whey as it drips out of the molds. You can't see it in the picture, but the plastic cups actually have holes in them where the whey drains out. Really, we could eat it at any time now, but we will definitely be eating it tonight! If you take it out of the molds before it's done draining, you just wind up with whey on the plate as it continues to drain. But we're all so starved for goat cheese after several months without it that we don't care!

Friday, April 28, 2006


Today, I decided I needed to get outside and check things out for myself. According to my husband, my walk has been upgraded from a hobble to a limp, so that's good enough for me! I've been getting reports from the kids and my husband, but it's just not the same. First I was planning to head across the creek to see how the goats were doing with the second pasture in their rotation. They needed to be moved from the first to second pasture after only one week, because they ate the grass down so quickly, and it didn't grow back that fast. As I was headed down towards the creek, I looked out across the pastures and saw something small moving in the far pasture where the sheep are grazing. I stopped and looked closer. It was a lamb!

Running around near a black ewe were two little white lambs with black spots. One is covered with spots, and the other only has the black spots on his eyes, and one big black spot on his neck, just like our new Icelandic ewe, Dottie. I wasn't sure if the mother was Minerva or Pocahontas, so I started looking for the other two-year-old black ewe, and I couldn't spot her. After a few minutes, I noticed Mike coming back from the other side of the creek, and I called to him. He came over and jumped the electric fence into the sheep's pasture. I wouldn't try that even if I did have two good ankles! He looked in the shelter and behind it, and then I saw something move in a little gully behind a tree in the far corner of the pasture. It was a black head -- no horns meant it had to be the other two-year-old ewe. I told Mike, and he slowly walked down there. He found a little black ram with a white head, white tail and white socks! The lamb was still a little damp, but the placenta was already out, so he'll be a singleton, which is kind of unusual for a two year old ewe, but that's okay. It's not like we need a lot of sheep.

There are still three ewes left to lamb. Fee was grazing happily, while Majik and White Feather were laying next to the water trough, looking huge and uncomfortable. The little white ewe lamb that was born almost two weeks ago runs across the pasture with her mother now, never missing a step.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Boring, time-wasting injury

Sorry I haven't posted in a few days. Things on the farm are pretty quiet at the moment. Tuesday I was in the ER for what I thought was a broken ankle, and Wednesday I was at the dentist for two chipped teeth. I'd love to tell you some really exciting story about a runaway horse that kicked me in the mouth and knocked me down -- well maybe not -- but it's really very boring stuff that could have easily happpened in the burbs. Sunday, I was eating and reading and "forgot" to take the fork out of my mouth before I started chewing. The very loud crackling sounds alerted me to the problem!

Monday evening I was watering my flower and herb beds because my transplanted echinacea was wilting, and after I turned off the water hose, I turned around to walk back to the garden to start weeding, and next thing I knew I was on the ground screaming in pain. I had apparently stepped on something that caused my ankle to turn. That happens far too frequently, so I didn't think much of it after I stopped crying and moaning. I could hardly sleep Monday night though, and lifting my two toes on the outside of my foot was impossible, so Tuesday I decided I should take a trip to the ER. They said nothing was broken, but if it didn't feel better by the end of the week, I should see an orthopedic doctor.

My trip to the dentist in the suburbs yesterday was definitely not what the doctor ordered, and my ankle looked very fat by the time I got home. But I am very happy that my teeth now look like they have level edges again, rather than jagged ones. I spent today in bed with my foot elevated, so the swelling is very much improved. I am still in quite a bit of pain, but it is improved, so I shall not be seeking any additional medical opinions.

Sickness and injuries are such a waste of time. I kept looking out my bedroom window at the garden today. It was such a gorgeous day, and the moon is still in the right phase for planting root crops -- and I need to get more onions in the ground, as well as carrots! I'm hoping to make it out there tomorrow for a quick planting session. With a little help from my daughters, I'm hoping it doesn't set back my healing.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sickness and health

The Illinois Sustainable Living and Wellness Expo was quite an interesting event. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the people were interesting. I can see why so many doctors insist on merely medicating people rather than even suggesting that they change their life (diet, exercise, meditation, etc). Our display was situated between two supplement vendors, and they easily had twice as many people stopping at their tables as we did. We'd listen to people tell them about their arthritis or fibromyalgia or other medical conditions, which can be improved by lifestyle changes, but all of them wondered which supplement would help them. It never occurred to them that our display would be of interest to them -- they weren't interested in healthier eating.

This reminded me of a friend from about 10 years ago. Between the two of us, we would order about $800 worth of food from a health food co-op every month. Her husband once complained to her that it was too expensive to be eating all of that organic and natural food, and she said, "No, this is our health insurance." What a great reponse! She was the first person who opened my mind to the idea that what our society calls health insurance is really sickness insurance -- it pays bills when you get sick, but having a health lifestyle is the best insurance you can have to keep you healthy.

That's one of the reasons I wanted to move out here. Although I have been consciencious about nutrition for almost two decades now, I was never able to get as much exercise as I knew I needed. I tried memberships to the YMCA and health clubs. I had a treadmill and a stationery bicycle. I tried walking around the neighborhood every morning. I couldn't keep up any of those things for more than a couple of months. It always felt like a waste of time -- so dishonest. Drive to the Y to exercise? Walk on a treadmill to nowhere? Walk around the neighborhood ... why? I needed to do something real.

Now I get tons of honest exercise. I carry 50-pound feed bags and 3-gallon water buckets. I walk all around our 32 acres for real reasons -- checking fences to make sure there are no new holes or that an electric fence isn't shorting out, checking sheep to see if anyone new has lambed, checking the hay field to see how it's growing. I gained seven or eight pounds over the winter, but just in the past few weeks since spring has pulled me outside daily, I have lost it all without even thinking about it! Some days I never sit down between lunch and dinner, and I don't even realize it until that evening when I notice that my legs and feet are sore.

Overall, I did enjoy the expo, mostly because of the few kindred spirits I met. Looks like I found a source for fresh, all-natural fish, and three different people talked to me about wholesaling my goat-milk soap, which would be wonderful!

Now, I need to get outside and start working on cleaning the barn. Yeah, it's time to clean the barn again. We didn't actually get it completely clean the last time we worked on it. Before moving out here, I never thought about the fact that a barn would have to be cleaned, but it does. We need to muck out stalls again, and we need to continue working on the storeroom. We got half of it cleaned last time. Now we need to work on the other half. I can't believe how dirty it gets over the winter.

We also need to get the milking parlor painted so we can start using it again. Currently, the girls are milking in the middle of the barn, which means there can be cats and chickens around, and that's not the cleanest environment to have your milk sitting around. The milking parlor was built more than a year ago (maybe 2 years ago?), but it's never had walls inside, just studs, so we've avoided adding shelves and things like that, which would make milking easier.

Looks like our young chicks are learning to go back into their shelter at night, so we'll be able to let them out of the smaller fenced area today so they can run around in the bigger pasture. That will be my entertainment for the day!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

New turkeys in the midst of a busy week

The creek went down the day after my last post, so we were able to put the bridge back in place, and it's working well. Much of this past week was spent getting ready to be an exhibitor and a speaker at the Illinois Sustainable Living and Wellness Expo, which began yesterday and continues through today. Thursday, when we were really very busy with the expo preparations, our 63 new turkeys poults arrived. After losing 60% of our turkeys last year, I was very concerned (maybe even paranoid) about doing everything right and checking on the new poults frequently. At one point, the heat lamp had mysteriously stopped working, but no one got chilled, and so far, they're doing okay.

If you're wondering why these turkeys are a beautiful gray color, it's because 53 of them are blue slates. There are 10 broad-breasted bronze, which look like the old-fashioned pilgrim pictures that we all saw as kids. Slates were the fifth most popular breed in 1901, but today, there are only a few hundred left in the entire country. With the purchase of these poults, we are hoping to start our own breeding flock to help change that.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Short-lived success

It was great while it lasted ... that feeling of accomplishment, that feeling that we had done something really necessary and worthwhile. That feeling -- and our bridge -- lasted less than two days. It started raining yesterday, and you can see the result.

I have this theory that if "they" did it 100 years ago, we can do it today. They've been building bridges for many years, so surely we should be able to build one, right? Well, this was not our best effort. We never expected it to last forever, but we did expect it to last for at least a few weeks, maybe a few months.

Although I am the type of person who worries far too much in the human world ... worry about what people think, what they mean, why they do things, how I should do things differently to win friends and influence people ... I worry very little about things on the homestead. There is absolutely nothing I can do about the weather, and that seems to dictate a lot of our success and failure out here. Although some people might go insane from the lack of control, I find a certain amount of comfort in knowing that all I can do is my best. I do my best, and I don't worry about it. If my best isn't good enough, I'll have to try harder next time or study harder or find a smarter mentor.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A really crazy, very busy, incredible day!

The day began with a visit from a family that wanted to buy a couple of pet goats. After two hours, their five children couldn't decide on just two, so they got three. It was really fun helping them to pick out their new pets.

After they left, we had lunch and talked about the afternoon. We knew we had very ambitious plans! First on the agenda was building a bridge across the creek. We put up fencing and a shelter over there last fall when the creek was down because of the drought. Of course, the drought ended, and now we can't get the goats over there to those wonderful lush pastures filled with grass, flowers, delicious weeds, and crunchy bushes that goats so love! Mike and Jonathan worked on the bridge, while Margaret and Katherine and I worked on preparing a multi-purpose shelter to accept the chickens that we've been brooding in the barn for the past two months. Our task was made mentally more challenging by the fact that one of the ewes currently in the pasture was in the shelter acting like she mght be in labor, and we didn't want to move her if she was in labor. Our concern was heightened by the fact that we had been surprised by a lamb this morning! It was a ewe that was not supposed to be bred, but when I looked in my planner, I saw that a ram was loose five months ago. So the good news is that we know who Daddy is and can register the ewe lamb.

So, the girls and I spent an hour watching White Feather to see if she was just exhausted from being in the final weeks of pregnancy -- or if she was indeed going to lamb soon. After a bit of waiting while yearling goats climbed all over us, I suggested that we could take this opportunity to trim the hooves on those goats. Margaret got the hoof trimmers and we gave the goats pedicures while keeping an eye on the ewe. After an hour, I was convinced that she was acting just like all the rest of the ewes who are so very pregnant, so it would probably be okay to move her to the other pasture.

By then, the bridge was ready to be put in place, and although I did little more than offer moral support for this project, it was thrilling to see it actually happen. Mike and the kids carried the bridge down to the creek and sat it on top of cement blocks. Yes, it will wash away in the first flood, but it is also tied to a post, so hopefully it won't go too far. As long as it isn't busted up, we'll be able to bring it back and continue using it.

After we got the bridge in place, we decided to move the sheep to their new pasture. Rather than trying to move all 12 like we usually do, this time, we moved whatever number would go into the adjoining pasture, and then we'd close the gate and get those to their final destination. Then we went back and repeated the process. It only took three times to get everyone to their new pasture. I'd still love to have a herding dog though!

Then I used a pan of kelp to tempt three yearling goats to go across the new bridge to the fresh pastures on the other side of the creek. Everyone else grabbed a goat by the collar and walked them across. Most walked across the bridge nicely, but Coco freaked at the sight of it, so she had to be carried, and Georgie panicked halfway across, but Margaret was able to coax him the rest of the way.

As the sun started to set, we put the front wall on the shelter that we were transforming from a sheep shelter to a chicken shelter. We decided it was too late to actually move 100 chickens, because no one had even begun the regular evening chores yet. We'll do that tomorrow.

The only down side to today is that we found so many ticks on ourselves, we lost count. This is already the worst year for ticks we've ever had. Last year was so great. We only found a total of three or four ticks on everyone in the whole family. Each person today found that many on ourselves.

Overall, this was the kind of day that I truly love! I am so tired, and my muscles are so sore, but I feel that we accomplished so much. I suppose I'm probably experiencing the type of euphoria that a runner gets after finishing a race. What a genuinely wonderful day!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Pay attention!

The past two days have been happily productive. Yesterday I planted 25 lilies and 10 gladiolas. I'll plant more glads in a couple weeks and more a couple weeks after that, so I'll have fresh flowers in the house for a month or two this summer. I love fresh flowers, and glads make a beautiful bouquet.

Today we started cleaning out the barn -- not just your usual cleaning, but real cleaning. We mucked out two stalls (farm talk for shoveling manure and soiled straw) and dumped it in the front yard. I'd love to be a fly in the car of country neighbors who drive past. I'm sure they're looking at our piles of straw and manure on our front lawn and saying, "Look what those crazy city folks are doing now! Don't they know that's going to kill the grass!" Yes, indeed we do know it's going to kill the grass, and that's the plan.

I spent a portion of the winter looking to the experts for answers. Our gardening has been pretty dismal for the past four years, and last spring we visited a place that has a permaculture system. It looks like the Garden of Eden, but when you get up close, you realize that the vast majority of what you see is actually food! They have garlic, squash, tomotoes and other vegetable plants growing in the shade of trees! You can check out pictures yourself at the Greenhouse Bed and Breakfast. Most of what you see in those pictures is edible!

Anyway, yesterday as I was planting the lilies, I started wondering how I would keep the chickens from digging them up. I was planting the lilies in the shade of a small plum tree. We have been putting barn muckings under our trees for at least three years. It kills the grass and provides time-released fertilizer for the trees. (manure + decomposing straw = compost) It also looks like our trees are mulched.

Then today Margaret said the reason we can't keep the chickens out of the barn is because they have too much fun scratching in the straw. She said that if we get the straw out of there (it's in the aisles and the front storage area), the chickens wouldn't have any motivation to go in there.

Things started to add up in my head, and voila! We dumped large quantities of straw and manure between the apple trees so that the chickens will go there to scratch in the straw. The combination of the straw smothering the grass and the chickens scratching will kill the grass and make a wonderful bed for planting! It's no tilling and no nasty herbicides to turn my front yard into the Garden of Eatin. (And I think it'll keep the chickens from digging up my freshly planted lilies, because they're having so much fun scratching in those piles of straw that we scattered in the yard.)

Now I don't want you to think that experts have no place in my world. Obviously they do, because I read a lot. I just think we sometimes get too dependent upon the experts. Sometimes, when we just pay attention, we can figure things out on our own. Experts can give us ideas, but when it comes to applying them to our own lives, we have to pay attention to our situation. I sat in the house all winter trying to figure out how I was going to create a permaculture system on my homestead, but in the space of a couple of days, it all came together as I was spending time outside and paying attention to my world.

Now for the really fun part of today ... we moved the goslings to their new home outside. They've been inside under a heat lamp since they arrived three weeks ago, but with the incredibly warm weather, we decided to move them to the little chicken coop in our yard. It's a halfway-house for a lot of critters around here ... chickens, turkeys, ducks, goats, rabbits, and now goslings! They seem so hyperactive, running from the waterer to the feeder to the grass and then inside their little house!

The best part however was seeing Lucy's reaction to their arrival. We started with a pair of adult buff geese three years ago, and two years ago, Ricky died. Lucy was so sad, she disappeared for a week, and when she came back, one of her wings was broken. She eventually recovered and decided to live with the ducks on the pond. Today was such a special day for her though. When we put the goslings out in their new yard, they started making gosling noises, and we heard Lucy honking! We looked up to see her bustling towards us at top speed, honking non-stop. She got to the fence of their little yard and stared at them and honked for five minutes! Then she just stood and stared. I looked at Katherine, who has been taking care of the goslings since they arrived, and I said, "Wow! Seeing Lucy so happy makes it worth all that work, doesn't it?" She smiled and agreed.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Spring guilt

Today was one of those days where I wound up feeling really guilty for not getting more done. Yeah, there is a lot to be done around here! I should have made soap, trimmed goats' hooves, worked in the garden, etc.

To my credit, I did make yogurt, but I spent way too much time on the computer. I spent about an hour in the goat pasture, sitting on a log, petting whomever walked up to me. I also put some goats outside who had been in the barn for the past three weeks with a buck, hopefully getting bred. It was fun to watch the group dynamics as they re-entered the herd. There was a great deal of head butting and goats climbing all over each other ... "I'm the alpha!" "NO! I'm the herd queen!" "No! Me!"

Spring should be a time of energy, right? Katherine took today's picture of the robin in front of the daffodils. I am oh-so-optimistic about tomorrow ...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

New kid on the farm

Hercules seems to have survived his first night at Antiquity Oaks. He is eagerly gulping down his bottles, but he doesn't seem very interested in hay or grain. I wanted to get a picture of him, but he is so friendly, he rarely got far enough away from me for me to get a good picture. I took five pictures and this was the best one. Sorry his face is blurry, but you can see his spiffy splint on his hind leg. He will be our first full-size buck on the farm; he is a la mancha, which explains the lack of ears.

Yesterday was such a roller coaster of emotions. It's nice to have another mellow day on the farm, and the weather is beautiful again! Buds are forming on the trees, and all the ewes are getting udders, which means lambing isn't far away. This morning I noticed four turtles sunning themselves on the side of the pond, and after lunch, I went outside and gave the ducks some crackers on the pond. As soon as they saw me coming, they started swimming straight towards me. I wonder if that means they're spoiled ... maybe just a little bit.

I'll be spending more time outside this afternoon, checking fences, observing animals and just relaxing.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Not so perfect

Perhaps I was high on fresh air yesterday, because on second thought, it wasn't exactly perfect. The really tiny little annoyance from yesterday was that one of the goats had her head stuck in the fence between the goat pasture and the ram pasture. Unfortunately, her head was stuck in front of a post, and when I put one hand on each side of her head to free her, Monet (a ram) came charging to the fence and rammed my hands. The goat's head appeared to be okay -- probably because she had my hands shielding her from the ram's head and the post. My hands were not so great. One is swollen today, but I don't think anything's broken. It's really just a minor annoyance compared to how I really spent today.

Yesterday I received a phone call from a woman who was transporting our new la mancha buck from Texas. She said he tried to jump out of a pen and broke his leg. Margaret and I met the transporter at 10 a.m. this morning, and I took him -- Hercules -- straight to the vet for x-rays, which showed a spiral fracture. That vet wouldn't touch it -- said he needed to see someone who does orthopedic surgery. I called the U of I vet clinic and very literally almost fainted when he said it would be $2,000!!! I was short of breath, dizzy and seeing blue spots!!! I called an experienced breeder of 30 years in Texas who had seen the goat shortly after he broke it. I was hoping she would say that it really wouldn't cost that much, but she said she has been faced with the same difficult decision, and she asked the vet to just splint it, and she hoped for the best. The leg did heal for her goat, but her joint was immobile.

I did find another vet who said he'd do the surgery for $300-800, but he'd have to see the x-ray first. Mike encouraged me to take in the x-ray and at least get a definite prognosis from him and a definite price. So, around 2:00, Margaret and I headed to Ottawa, which is an hour away. We left the goat in the truck and took the x-ray into the office. After a short wait, the vet looked at the x-ray and said he could splint it. I wanted to hug him! He said the fracture goes into the hock joint, so there is the possibility of arthritis in that joint, which means it would get stiff, and he wouldn't be able to bend it. There is also another possible problem. The break is very close to a growth plate, and if it was damaged, he said that leg would not grow any longer, regardless of whether he did surgery or simply splinted it. We opted for the splint, and an hour later we were on our way home.

That's the crazy thing about living out here. When I wake up in the morning, I frequently have no idea how I'll be spending the day. Of course, everyone has unexpected things happen, but they seem to come far more frequently out here than in the burbs. I certainly did not expect to be driving all over the place with a young la mancha buck today.

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Just a perfect day

Today was the kind of day that I love out here. I spent the entire afternoon outside without a jacket. I walked all over the pastures, and I walked along the creek. I sat and listened to a chorus of wild birds, watched the ducks on the creek and watched the dog and the donkey play. I saw a wild rabbit running through the woods and found a decomposing squirrel near the creek. Bluebells are springing up everywhere and many have buds. In another week, the meadow will be a beautiful blue!

I didn't do anything big today, just dozens of little things that are important ... like walking the fenceline looking for holes and watching the sheep to figure out how they've been getting out of their pasture. Having them contained for only a few hours, it would be premature to declare victory, but I am hopeful. It was very funny to watch Cheyenne as she walked along her old escape hatch trying to figure out what happened! Finally she laid down and stared at it for a long time before deciding that the grass was green enough to eat on this side of the fence.

Saturday, April 8, 2006

A strange new friendship

It's a beautiful day outside, as long as I'm inside! The grass is turning greener, and our tom turkey is strutting around in front of the girls in all of his glory. The daffodils have just begun to bloom. Squirrels are running here and there looking for food, and we had a visit from two pairs of Canada geese this morning. It looks like the temperature is 70, not 40-something! So I've been content to stay inside, cleaning mostly. Every now and then, however, I am drawn to the window to watch the animals' antics.

Stormy, the miniature donkey, and Sovalye, the livestock guardian dog, are developing an interesting relationship. They are both the same size, and I am finding that they are making strange playmates. Donkeys traditionally hate canines, which is why they are excellent guardians -- they will kick and stomp coyotes until they're dead or run away. Sovalye is only 18 months old himself, so there is still a lot of puppy left in him. Although it doesn't happen as often any longer, he is still reprimanded for playing too rough with the goats, who have no idea he is playing! Stormy is only 10 months old and is still a young boy. I'm not sure which one I worry about more when they play, but it seems to be impossible to keep them apart since Sovalye will go through the fence to be with Stormy.

You know Sovalye is ready to play when he takes the typical chest-on-the-ground pose of a dog who wants to play, then he'll jump at Stormy or even jump on him or over him. Stormy appears no worse for wear. Then Stormy rears up and jumps on Sovalye. I see Sovalye mouthing Stormy with his giant jaws on Stormy's neck, and then Stormy spins around and grabs a mouthful of Sovalye's skin. I've never heard either of them yelp in pain or stumble or appear to be hurt in any way. Yesterday, at one point, I thought they were getting too rough, so I sent Katherine out there to remove Sovalye from Stormy's pasture again. When she had Sovalye by the gate, Stormy came running up and turned his back end towards her and kicked up his heels, which is what he does when he's angry or feels threatened. Obviously, he did not want Sovalye to leave!

This morning as I was watching them play, I thought about getting on-line and posting a question on my donkey group about whether it was okay to let them play like this -- and then I stopped myself. I'm sure I'd get some very insistent opinions on all sides of the issue. There have probably been dogs and donkeys who've been best friends for life, while there have been others who killed each other. This dog and this donkey are unique, so I need to look at them and this particular situation. When a donkey is really angry, he kicks up his hind legs, and he's never done that towards Sovalye. On the other hand, Sovalye has killed raccoons and chased off coyotes, so he could hurt the donkey if he saw him as a threat.

Before they started playing with each other, Stormy would throw buckets around the pasture and chase the sheep. Sovalye would try to play with the goats, scaring them and causing them to run around the pasture. When I watch them together and ask myself what I see, I see that these two young animals really wanted a playmate, and they've found that in each other.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

A flood ... of water and thoughts

Katherine came running into the house this morning screaming about a flood. If there is any good news in the midst of all our bad news lately, it is that we have very good timing. She was in the barn when she suddenly heard gushing water. Following the sound, she discovered that a plastic water pipe (yes, they make plastic water pipes!) had burst and water was flooding the storeroom and running into the barn. I ran out there and tried in vain to stop the rushing water, then I turned off the valve under the sink, but that had no effect. I ran into the pump room of the smaller barn and tried to turn off the electricity for the well pump, but none of the switches seemed to affect it. I ran back through the barn and tried to stuff wool (from the shearing almost two weeks ago) into the pipe. That didn't work. I yelled to Katherine that I was running into the house to call Mike. By the time I reached him by phone, I was breathing so hard from all the running that I had to repeat myself twice before he understood what had happened. He told me that there were two valves behind the water tank in the pump room. One goes to the barn, one to the house. He didn't remember which was which. He said they were both about a foot and a half from the floor. I ran back to the pump room, sloshing through an inch of water that now filled the area between the two barns. I discovered one valve close to the floor and turned it to the right until it was tight. I continued hearing the sound of water rushing through the pipes. My brain kept insisting, "righty-tighty" as I grabbed the next valve and turned it to the right. Still no change in the sound of rushing water. I grabbed another and another valve, thinking "righty-tighty" and turning to the right until it was tight. Finally it was quiet, and Katherine met me halfway out of the barn saying that the water had stopped running.

Of course, at that point, we had no water in the house or the barn, but the flooding was stopped. There was an inch of water in the storeroom, where a 50-pound bag of lamb pellets, a half-full bag of kelp, and a large bag of dog food were sitting. After moving the bags to a dry area, I came into the house and just sat and thought.

Control is a funny thing. It's something that most of us think we have; it's something that most of us want; but I'm not sure it's something that any of us have. There are so few things that we can control. I suddenly had an urge to clean the house, because it seemed like something that was within my control. When I had babies, I realized that it was impossible to control them -- and by extension, I had very little control of my own life when they were babies. I couldn't control when they wanted to eat, sleep, poop or be happy. As my children have grown older, I've forgotten the lessons I learned from them. The farm is teaching me now.

Fire, death, flood ... I dare not say, "what next?" I used to think that doctors must be the least spiritual people on the planet because they try so hard to control things that often cannot be controlled. Now I am starting to think that they must be very spiritual and willing to simply accept the things they cannot change, otherwise they'd go mad. I've been thinking about this so much since Dancy died. There have been a few times when goats have been so sick, and we've brought them back. Dancy herself was very sick in December. Every morning for four days, I was afraid I would walk out there to find her dead, but she pulled through. This time she died quickly. I've spent much of the past three days asking why she died. What should we have done differently? How could we have saved her? Maybe it was just her time to go.

I've always known that farmers tend to be rather religious, but I never wondered why. But they are at the whims of nature. Disease, droughts, floods wreak havoc on their livelihood. They can't control the weather, so they pray, and they do everything else they can to control as much as they can. They give medications that may or may not be needed. They are willing to trust the seed and fertilizer companies to bring them bigger yields from their crops. They trust the vets who tell them to vaccinate for diseases that could be avoided by more natural management of the animals. I hope it doesn't sound like I have any answers here, because I don't. Living out here has taught me how little I know, and I'm not talking about things that can be learned from books or even a teacher or mentor. It's easy to learn how to milk a goat or deliver kids. But I am constantly reminded that 99% of what I see is a mystery.

When I moved out here, I treasured the Yahoo groups. If I had a problem, I'd post my question to whatever list was appropriate. I belonged to more than 20 groups, so regardless of my question, someone there could answer! Someone knew the right answer! Although they helped me in many ways, they also slowed down the learning process. They encouraged me to depend on others, to look to "experts" rather than quietly seek what my animals had to teach me. Many of my mistakes were made on the advice of so-called experts. No one on the other end of Cyberspace can read a two- or three-paragraph description of a problem and tell you how to fix it with absolute certainty. It's nuts to think how many times it happens every day. Yes, you want to help people, but you have to understand their situation before you can help, and the person seeking help can only explain the situation in a context that makes sense to him or her -- a skill few novices have. If you leave out one or two little facts or don't describe something accurately, it changes everything.

I feel that I have wasted a lot of time on those groups, when I should have been spending time with the animals, observing and listening. I keep asking why Dancy died, and today I called the university vet clinic. Of course, the only way to know how she died would have been to do a necropsy. I knew that, but I didn't take her body down there because part of me didn't want to know why she died. I was afraid that it would have been something that we could have saved her from. I want to be perfect. I hate making mistakes. In corporate America, we get second chances, we can make excuses, and no on expects us to be perfect. The law of the farm is unforgiving though. Mistakes cost lives. Excuses are irrelevant. There are no second chances.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

A new addition

Yesterday in the midst of grieving over our loss of Dancy, I received an email from friends who had a lamb available. I had told them I'd like to have an Icelandic ewe to milk, but with registered stock selling at $700-1,000 each, there was no way I could afford one. I asked if they'd sell me an unregistered ewe as soon as she's born so I could bottle-feed her, hopefully making her tame enough to milk when she grew up. They said they'd keep me in mind, and yesterday they emailed to let me know that a lamb was available. They needed to sell her because she's related to both their rams, so they wouldn't be able to breed her. I'm planning to breed her to one of my Shetland rams. Icelandics are a lot like Shetlands. They come in many colors, and they have a short tail that does not need to be docked. Although Icelandics have luxurious wool like Shetlands, they are also good meat sheep and good milkers! The main difference is that Shetlands are one of the smallest breeds of sheep, whereas Icelandics are medium sized. Now, we just need to think of a name!

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Farewell Dancy

My dearest Dancy Darlin’--

You were my favorite goat for so many reasons. You came into our lives three years ago as the fourth doe in our herd. We picked you up in Tennessee, from someone who didn’t appreciate your great temperament, your delicious milk and the beautiful babies you made. I paid only $200 for you, making you the cheapest goat I ever bought, but I wouldn’t have sold you for 10 times that amount. You were a wonderful milker, giving us lots of delicious milk for many months, and you were almost always a sweetheart on the milkstand. Whenever anyone walked into the pasture, you would always walk right up to say hello. I loved the way you moved your ears to let me know what you were thinking.

More than anything though, I loved the way you related to other goats. You were the herd queen, and everyone knew it. You were a wonderful mother to your babies, always taking excellent care of them and giving them your wonderful personality. It was hard for many people to believe that your babies were dam raised because they had the people-loving personalities of bottle babies. In 2004, it was Katherine's personal goal to milk you in the evening before you'd had a chance to walk over to the buck pen and let your boys nurse through the fence -- even when they were several months old and well past the age of weaning. You loved your babies so much! And I will forever be telling the story of how you were so in love with Bucky. Unlike most goats, who don’t care which buck mates them, you had your own ideas about who would sire your babies.

I’ll never forget the story Margaret told of the day you were in heat in 2004. When she let you out of your pasture, you ran to the buck pen, walked along the fence, and when you didn’t see Bucky, you headed for the barn. Margaret took your collar and started to lead you to the pen where Bucky was, and as soon as you saw him, you tore away from her and ran towards him at top speed! It was a scene from a love story!

I remember when you'd only been here for a few days, and I was late with the evening milking. I don't know how you got out of the pasture, but you walked right up to the back door and called me, as if to let me know I was late! When I walked outside with the milk bucket, you walked next to me back to the barn and hopped right up onto the milkstand. Last night, Margaret said you were calling to her as she left the barn. I wish she could have understood what you were saying.

This morning, Mike came into the bedroom shortly before 7 a.m. and said “Dancy’s dead.” We’ve talked of little else all day long. Your legacy will live on here forever. Your daughter, Carmen, captured my heart the day she was born and will always be with us. Last year, she gifted us with a beautiful daughter that is pure white, just like her grandma, and if I ever try to sell her, I’m sure my own daughters will revolt! Even though your daughter Odette is only a year old, I suspect she’ll make her mark on our herd too. She reminds me more of you every day. It’s starting to look like Carmen is going to follow in your footsteps and take top milking honors in our herd this year, and we are definitely keeping both her son and daughter from this freshening.

I hope we didn’t fail to do something that could have prevented your death. I wish I knew what I could have done to keep you with us, but Katherine says you're probably happy now because you're with Bucky again. We had looked forward to having you with us for many years to come, and we’ll never forget you, Dancy Darlin’.


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