Monday, May 29, 2006

Making mulch

Don't have the energy to type much tonight. We spent most of today mulching the smaller branches of the big hickory that went down in the storm last Wednesday. Temperature was in the 90s. Mike, his parents and Jonathan did the mulching, and I put the mulch in the various flower beds, which was more work than it sounds like. I imagine it would have been much more enjoyable if the temperature were about 20 degrees lower. They went through a pile that was six feet high, 15 feet wide by 20 feet wide!

After his parents left with the mulcher, another storm came through and knocked a few more branches out of trees. I wish we could afford a mulcher.

Never got around to making mozarella today, but we did make peppermint ice cream. This was just an ice cream kind of day.

More storms are in the forecast .... as well as lower temperatures, which are quite welcome!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

This and that

We've been so busy. Yesterday, I planted several packets of squash and zucchini. Mike planted more potatoes. He spent most of the past two days either staining or applying polyurethane to our windows. Yes, that should have been done when the windows were installed a year and a half ago. Some are definitely showing signs of being unprotected all this time, but hopefully there won't be any true, lasting damage that will affect their usefulness over the next few decades.

Remember those turkey hens I mentioned a few weeks ago? The two that had nests on top of the storeroom in the barn? Well, they have exactly one poult left between them. A couple of chicken hens hatched a brood around the same time, and they still have all nine chicks left. Chickens definitely win the prize for being the best mothers, but I've known that for quite some time already.

Mike has also spent quite a bit of time in the past two days cutting up the 200-year-old hickory tree that was knocked down by the storm on Wednesday. He has most of the smaller branches cut off now. His father will be bringing over the mulcher on Monday, so we can mulch them. The large parts will become firewood, and that will require a chainsaw and more time.

Last Sunday I completely sold out of soap made with fragrance oils. I should have remembered that the people who go to Garfield Farm like the fragrance oils more than the essential oils. So, I've started making more soap. I made a batch of sandalwood two days ago. I also made cheese a couple days ago -- fromage blanc this time. My buttermilk making has slowed to once every few days because I decided to start making a half gallon at a time, rather than just a quart. I make either buttermilk pancakes or buttermilk biscuits at least five mornings a week, and a couple times a week for dinner, I've starting making cornbread with buttermilk, which is the most delicious I've ever tasted.

Margaret and I will be making mozarella tomorrow. My history with mozarella is a long, sad one. The first time I made it, it turned out perfectly. It went downhill after that. It has never been quite right since then. There are several different methods used to make mozarella, so we have decided to attempt the citric acid method tomorrow. I hope it works, because if we are to ever reach our goal of self-sufficiency, we have to be able to make our own mozarella -- because we love pizza and lasagna.

Here's another little tidbit about an experiment we've been trying ... living without paper towels. I realized that we were spending about $20 a month on paper towels, which is a tad ridiculous. So, when we ran out, I announced to the family that I wouldn't be buying any more. You can imagine the response I received. "You can't live without paper towels!" Well, you can. It's been a few weeks, and we've managed to do just fine. If something gets spilled on the floor, I use a dish cloth, then throw it in the laundry right away. For draining fried foods, I use a clean dish towel. One of my daughters asked, "You aren't going to stop buying toilet paper are you?" No, toilet paper has a permanent place in our home.

The temperature climbed into the 90s yesterday, which is quite unseasonably warm for us. The forecast is more of the same today. We are planning to work in the basement this afternoon when the temps get too high. (We didn't put A/C in our house because there isn't an energy efficient A/C unit available. They're all power guzzlers, and our ultimate goal is to have a solar-powered house.) Normally, our plan for hot weather is to have the whole house fan on at night to pull the cold air in from outside -- normally, it gets down into the 70s or even 60s at night all summer long, so we're usually freezing at night. Then in the morning, when the temperature gets above 70, we close all the windows. With our super-insulated house, this works really well for all but the hottest days -- meaning 100 degrees. We do have ceiling fans, which make it seem cooler than it would otherwise. For days that will go above 90 outside, we have the smallest available window unit for each floor -- it's the type of unit that is supposed to cool a 10X10 room, but it is enough to maintain temps in the 70-80 degree range in the 1,000-square feet on each level, and we don't use the upstairs unit during the day, because there are only bedrooms up there. At the moment, our normal plan doesn't work because we don't have windows in all the windows. Mike removed the glass parts of several windows to make it easier to stain and finish. So, this afternoon we are going to retreat to the coolness of the basement where we'll work on organizing it in preparation for putting up more walls down there. (In other words, we have to get the junk out of the way so we can work down there.)

Today's picture was taken by Katherine a few days ago when it was raining. When we first moved here, there was no wildlife around the pond. I guess we're doing something right because now we get frequent visits from blue herons, egrets and Canada geese, as well as a variety of wild ducks that we always scramble to identify with our birdwatching book.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


As I'm writing this, I hear the hum of a Shopvac and a hair dryer in the basement. We had a dreadful storm yesterday. It looks like a tornado probably came very close to touching down. For 1/3 of a mile, trees and telephone poles are snapped, and electrical wires are broken. This very old and large tree in our front yard broke off above the first branch. Clean-up will not be quick or easy.

We realized none of the electric fences were working last night, so we brought all the goats into the barn and hoped the coyotes would leave the sheep alone.

I borrowed a generator from a friend, but they didn't have gasoline for it, and we couldn't find a gas station open that had the right kind of gasoline for it. The sump pit was a couple inches from the top when we went to bed, hoping it wouldn't rise any more. Apparently, another storm came through during the night because we found another branch down in the front yard, and the basement had standing water in it this morning. Mike has been in the basement all morning cleaning up the mess. We buy food in bulk, such as beans, and I have about 20 pounds of lentils sitting on the table drying out now. At least, I hope they'll dry out. I have a huge pot cooking on the stove, so at least we'll be able to use those if the rest of them rot.

I am feeling exhausted, more mentally than physically. I keep reminding myself that we're all okay, and that's what's important, but I'm feeling beaten. There is so much work to be done.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Good morning!

I woke up at 3:45 this morning and couldn't fall back asleep. As I noticed the sky start to lighten shortly before 5 a.m., I actually started to get excited about the prospect of today. The sky was a beautiful streaked pink and yellow. Unfortunately, by the time I got downstairs and got the camera, it didn't look nearly as nice. I took a few pictures of the sunrise from the kitchen door anyway, hoping some would be as beautiful as what I had seen earlier.

Many of our city friends think that since we now live on the farm, we always get up at the crack of dawn, and I can't help but chuckle when they say so. It is the American icon of the farmer walking out to the barn with the sun barely peaking over the horizon, but we haven't figured out a reason that we need to get up that early every day. I can understand why dairy farmers did that 100 years ago. Their milk was delivered fresh to homes every morning in time for breakfast, so the cows had to be milked early in the morning. The important thing about milking though, is that you do it every 12 hours. Our goats don't care if we milk them at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. or 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. -- as long as they don't have to wait more than 12 hours between milkings. If we are running late in the evening, they walk up to the fence and start yelling at us to hurry up.

I couldn't fall back asleep this morning, because we have a very busy weekend coming up. This afternoon we leave for a goat show that is being held two hours away on Saturday and Sunday. Last year, we left home at 5 a.m., meaning we did get up at 4 a.m. that morning, so we wouldn't be late checking in for the show. This year, we've been saying that we're going to go on Friday so that we can sleep late. I have my doubts about sleeping though, because we would be sleeping in the barn with the goats, and the nightly lows have been in the 40s. I know I can't sleep when it's that cold, so we need to discuss a Plan B!

On Sunday, my daughter will stay at the goat show and continue to show the goats, while my husband and I will go to the Garfield Farm Rare Breed Show in LaFox, Illinois. It is always a lot of fun, and it reminds me of where I first got the crazy idea of moving out to the country to raise rare breeds of livestock. I was a reporter at the Kane County Chronicle when I first attended the show in 1999. I was completely enamored with the livestock I saw there, and I wanted to do something to make sure these very useful animals continued to live on this planet. Since factory farms use only one breed of animal for a particular purpose -- the white leghorn chicken for egg production, for example (because they produce the most eggs on the least feed), or a Cornish-Rock cross for meat production (because they grow the fastest) -- it leaves hundreds of other breeds to slowly die out. The beauty of heritage chickens is that they grow at a moderate rate, and they are good egg layers. I could write about this all day, but if you want to know more, check out Garfield's Web site and especially the page on the Rare Breed Show.

I've already made chocolate chip muffins and the timer just went off for the bran muffins. Now it's time to wake up the kids and get to the regular chores on the homestead today. Yesterday, Margaret clipped 10 goats for the upcoming show. She has another 11 to go!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Final lambing of the season

Fee finally lambed. Margaret and I noticed it this afternoon just as a storm was rolling in. Of course, we wouldn't let a little storm stop us from finding out if she'd had a ram or a ewe, so we headed out to the far pasture -- and yes, it is the farthest pasture from the house -- with dark skies and thunder in the distance. The little lamb was old enough that it was rather spunky, so we couldn't get very close, and it would run away with its mother. Then the sky opened up and we ran under a giant oak tree for shelter. I always used to think it was "so Hollywood" for people to run under a tree when it was raining, but to my surprise, it actually kept us 95% dry! At one point, the rain was really pouring down, but we stayed very close to the tree trunk, and we only got a few drops on us now and then.

When the rain finally stopped, we continued stalking the little lamb for about 10 minutes, but when the sky started to look threatening again, I told Margaret I was headed to the house! Between the barn and the house, I saw two turkey hens attacking one of the goslings, so I ran to the chicken house to rescue it, and just as I turned towards the house again, the rain began to pour. Yes, Margaret was still out in the far pasture trying to catch that little lamb to determine if it was a he or a she!

About 20 minutes later, Margaret came inside to give us the news that it was a ewe lamb! Sorry we don't have any pictures yes. The weather has not been cooperating. It is pure white, so it looks a lot like the little ewe lamb that was born a month ago to Fee's daughter. We are beginning to wonder if any ewe in this line can throw anything other than a white ewe!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mothers Day!

Today has been great so far -- and promises to get better. My husband is making homemade enchiladas for dinner. He fixed cheese blintzes for breakfast -- made with goat cheese, of course!

Earlier today, a family came by to pick up a goat that is to be a Mother's Day gift. Normally I don't like to sell goats as gifts-- how do you know that someone really wants a pet goat? But I know this one is going to a good home where it is wanted because this is a repeat customer.

I am making buttermilk almost every day lately. We've been eating buttermilk pancakes and buttermilk biscuits at least every other day. They are so good! Making buttermilk is easier than making yogurt, and I didn't think anything could be easier than yogurt.

The cheesecake in the picture was taken to a potluck yesterday. One woman said it was the best cheesecake she'd ever had, although it didn't taste like any cheesecake she'd ever had before. When I told her it was made with goat cheese, she paused with her fork in mid-air and then with even more surprise in her voice, she repeated, "This is really good!"

Friday, May 12, 2006

Economic realities of turkeys

Katherine came in this morning to tell me that six slate poults (baby turkeys) are dead this morning. That bring the total to around 20-something, which is half the number we started with. They cost $8 each, and with half of them dead, that means they effectively cost $16 each. Add $5 processing cost to each one, and they cost $21 each before they've even eaten one bite -- and turkeys eat a lot. Over the next six months, they'll eat hundreds of dollars of feed.

This morning's poults died as a result of either getting too cold or suffocating. People argue about whether or not they're dumb -- and we're rather inclined to agree that they are not the brightest birds. We have a brooder that's open on the bottom. Baby chicks come and go as they feel warm or cold. This gives them room to run around outside if they want -- and if they're feeling warm enough. Maybe baby turkeys aren't smart enough for this system. Overnight a bunch of turkeys had left the warmth of the brooder and huddled into the corner of the stall where the brooder is located. This morning, my daughter found six dead ones in the corner. Apparently, at some point last night, they ran out into the stall, and when they got cold, they huddled in a corner rather than running back under the brooder. This has worked quite well since they arrived last month. Why did they suddenly forget where to go for warmth last night?

We had high mortality last year with the turkeys, and we lost money big time. I didn't want to do turkeys again, but the family talked me into it. Quite a few last year were lost to equally stupid reasons ... a stray cat that came along and managed to eat about a dozen babies, a dozen that just wandered off one day and never returned. Yeah, we learned from that. This year, we have them in an area that is definitely inaccessible to any varmint that might come along; and we will only use a controlled release plan for putting them on pasture, starting them on a small fenced in area until they're smart enough to go into their house at night, and then giving them unlimited room to roam.

I am equally unhappy with the job the mama turkeys have been doing with their babies. One hatched about six of the eggs in her nest, then left. Several more eggs hatched or were pipped, but the babies died, of course, from getting cold. Too bad we didn't realize what had happened until it was too late. The six babies all disappeared within a few days.

Two more hens had nests on top of the barn storeroom. I heard chirping up there a couple days ago, so we put food and water up there for them. One by one, however, they fell down to the barn floor. The mothers are quite odd. Yesterday, they left the babies huddled in a corner with a barn cat eyeing them, while they chased a squirrel and a duck, who presented no threat to their babies at all. I repeatedly redirected the barn cat and finally picked up all the babies and put them near the two hens, who don't seem to know or care which babies belonged to whom.

Another hen has a nest on the floor in the corner next to the storeroom. She suddenly has a few babies, and we're thinking it's some of the ones that fell from the top of the storeroom, where the other hens hatched eggs. We're keeping an eye on her, because it is entirely possible -- probable -- that she will leave her nest before her eggs are ready to hatch since she already has a brood of poults. If she leaves, we need to get those eggs into an incubator ASAP so they will still hopefully hatch.

It is hard to believe this is our fifth year raising turkeys. We still feel like novices. The past couple years we nailed tin into the corners to round them out and eliminate the corner. If you don't have a corner, that should eliminate the risk of them huddling into corners, but that had it's problems too. We had some turkeys get stuck behind the tin and die, even though the tin was two feet high -- somehow they managed to go over the top and fall into the small space behind the tin. Who knew baby turkeys could jump that high? We tried putting chicken wire in the corners to round it out, thinking that they'd still be able to breathe if another poult got on top of them, and some still died -- probably from the weight of the birds stacked on top of them. They don't even really need corners to die -- last week I went into the barn in the early evening to find about 20 piled on top of each other next to the wall, so I herded them all back under the brooder.

On one hand, I can see why commercial turkey growers go to such lengths to reduce mortality -- putting drugs in the feed and water and keeping them confined forever. On the other hand, none of those things make the turkeys any smarter. My daughter had seen the poults huddled into a corner last night, and she herded them all back under the brooder. I guess someone could spend the night with them to make sure they all stay put ... but ... it already looks like the turkeys will be a financial loss this year. I don't know how to turn it around at this point.

Monday, May 8, 2006

ABCs of fencing ... and horses

I just realized that I keep talking about the movable fencing for the bucks, and it is highly likely that no one has any idea what I'm talking about! So, I decided to take a picture. Portable electric fencing is netting that has electrified horizontal strings. The vertical strands are plastic and do not conduct electricity. The bottom strand does not conduct electricity either, because it would ground out (not work) if it were always resting on the ground. Although the portable electric fencing works very well to keep the goats inside, it works equally well to keep coyotes outside. Every 12 feet there is a post that sticks into the ground, and we have extra posts that we put on the corners. At the moment, our biggest limitation is that we have to put the fence near another electric fence so that it can be energized.

The reason we started using this type of fencing is because we have 32 acres, and the perimeter is fenced in rusty old barbed wire, which would not keep goats contained, and it's far too expensive to replace all of that with new woven wire. We have quite a few newly fenced pastures, but that's only about 6-7 acres of our property. Since we can't afford to permanently fence in all of it, we decided to start using the movable fencing so that we could utilize more of the pasture. We can fence in a 40 X 40 area by using one fence, or if we put them together, we can fence in an area that's 80 X 80. Last week, we first used only one fence, and three bucks ate down the grass in 2-3 days. We decided to put two rolls of fencing together, so hopefully that will last them a week since it's four times as much grass. We also added two more bucks though, so ... we'll just have to see how fast they eat the grass! If you want to learn more about the temporary fencing, you can check out Premier's Web site, which is where we bought it.

I made two batches of soap this morning. This afternoon we visited a farm to look at horses. My daughters really like to ride, and although I am interested in riding, I am more interested in having a draft animal. I've thought about training a goat to pull a cart, and my daughter has talked about training her miniature donkey, but he has to be at least two years old. I'd like an animal that can help us in the garden pulling a small plow, as well as one who can pull a cart when it's loaded with firewood or hay or manure. We looked at a few different horses owned by this person, and unfortunately the one that would suit our needs perfectly is $2,000. I know it's not a bad price for the horse, but we just don't have $2,000 sitting around right now. My daughter has saved up $600 towards a horse so far, and she asked me if I could help pay for it, which I can't. I wish I could though, because I know it would be a good helper around the farm! Yesterday as I was moving straw from the barn to the garden (to use as mulch) I was again thinking of how useful a draft animal would be!

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Another new lamb!

I just love spring! There are babies, babies and more babies! Last night, when I went out to do chores, I walked down to the walnut grove to see if either of the last two pregnant ewes had lambed. I was quite a distance away when I saw that Majik had her head down as if she were eating, but there was something moving on the ground beneath her head. I felt a little burst of hope as I thought it looked like she was licking a lamb! As I got closer, my suspicions were confirmed when I saw a little black lamb covered with white spots! All of this year's lambs are out of our brown spotted ram, Teddy. We bred all the ewes to him because we wanted spots, and out of all the lambs so far, we've only had one solid colored lamb! I got close enough that I thought I saw testicles between his back legs, then a few minutes later, I saw him pee, which left no doubt in my mind that he was a ram. Like dogs, male sheep pee from the middle of their stomach, whereas with girls, the pee comes from under their tail.

Today is a gardening day. We are now two weeks past our final frost date, so it's time to get everything into the ground. In addition to gardening, we'll also have to move the bucks. We're using temporary fencing to move them around the pasture across the creek. And I'll keep checking the sheep pasture to see when Fee lambs!

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Twin bucklings!

Margaret came in this morning from chores and said that Scandal would definitely be giving birth today. Her tail ligaments were completely gone -- so gone that the skin was sunken on each side of her spine where it was attached to her tail. That is a sign that labor is coming soon. In another hour, Scandal was walking around making little noises. Shortly after noon, Scandal's water broke, which doesn't usually happen with goats unless birth is really going to happen shortly. Katherine and I joined Margaret and Scandal in the barn. Margaret said she wanted to catch, and Katherine volunteered to be photographer. I just had the honor of watching.

Last year, Scandal birthed her babies with little more effort than what is required for walking, so when she started screaming, we were a little worried. She was pushing really hard, stretching out her legs and rolling onto her side, stretching out her neck. She'd lay her ears back, which goats only do when they are really unhappy. After a few minutes, we saw a hoof sticking out about an inch. After a couple more pushes, we saw two hooves. The best position for baby goats to be born is that the head is laying flat against the two front legs -- so it's a good thing to see two sets of hooves presenting. We started to become concerned though, because she was pushing really hard, but as soon as the contraction was over, the hooves would go back inside. After several contractions we didn't see the nose, and the hooves were not staying out, so I told Margaret to go wash her hands, because it looked like Scandal might need help. I was afraid that the baby's head was turned backwards, laying over its spine, creating a big lump of baby rather than a nice long torpedo-shaped kid. Margaret went next door to the shed to wash her hands because there's hot water in there. Just as she was returning, we finally saw a tongue on top of the hooves -- then a nose! The only thing Margaret did was grab the hooves and hold them firmly so they couldn't go back in when Scandal took a break, and in only a couple more pushes, the baby came out. We could immediately see why she had such trouble -- he was huge!

Scandal stood up immediately, causing the umbilical cord to snap, and blood squirted on my white sneakers, which I had just washed (of course). She turned around and started licking off the baby. We helped to get the big mess of mucous off of him, but Scandal was very attentive. After 15 or 20 minues, she plopped down again and gave a little push. My daughters both said something about another baby, and then it practically fell out. It was obviously much smaller than its brother. Scandal again jumped right up and started licking her second baby. We noticed the umbilical cord hanging out, which means there are no more babies. It was just time to admire the two bucklings and wait for the placenta.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Still waiting ... but being productive

Just a quick note to let everyone know that we're still waiting on Scandal, and she's not even acting like she's going to give birth in this century now! She just walks around like a perfectly happy goat version of Buddha!

Today we filled four orders for goat milk soap, which is a record for a non-December month. We're pretty excited about it, since we normally only have business like that during the holiday season.

I also made buttermilk for the first time ever. It will be ready tomorrow, so we shall see how I did! Can't wait to make buttermilk pancakes with my homemade buttermilk.

Today's lunch was so delicious ... goat cheese sandwiches with grilled portobellos and green peppers!

Time to get to bed in case a screaming goat wakes me over the baby monitor tonight.

Monday, May 1, 2006

No new babies today

Margaret finally came to bed last night at 1 a.m. I kept the baby monitor next to my bed all night, but Scandal slept just fine, and there were no new babies this morning.

This morning, she still looked the same, so Margaret and I had to take Hercules to the vet to have his leg checked. Three weeks ago he was delivered to me with a broken leg. He didn't have a broken leg when the transporter picked him up in Texas, but between there and here, he tried to jump a fence, got his leg caught, and he broke his leg. That took the whole morning after chores, because the vet is 50 minutes away. We pass four other vet offices along the way, but not everyone does large animals. It was one of the biggest shocks for me to learn that the vast majority of vets have no desire to see anything other than dogs and cats.

The vet said that Hercules's leg is healing well, but he needs to keep the cast on for two more weeks. The really good news is that his leg is continuing to grow. That had been a concern because the break was really close to a growth plate.

We called home for updates, only to learn that Scandal was still very pregnant. This afternoon, I spent some time sitting with her in the barn, which she seems to really love. Whenever we try to leave her, she has a fit. If we put her outside, she's okay with that, but it was windy today, and we've had bad experiences in the past with goats kidding unattended. Really, everything comes out okay, but when moms have three or more kids, they usually start shooting out really fast after the second one, and the mom doesn't have time to get them cleaned up. They are really wet when they're born, and they can get chilled very quickly. Of course, hypothermia can kill them very quickly. Scandal's labor is stacking up very much like Dancy's labor of 2004 and Sherri's labor of 2005. In both cases, we saw signs of early labor with the goats for two days. In both cases, someone even spent the whole night in the barn with them. In both cases, we got really frustrated after two days, decided we didn't know what we were doing, and we left. In both cases, we came back to find three babies -- two nursing and one covered with mucous and nearly dead. Luckily, in both cases we were able to save the babies. By plunging them into a bucket or sink filled with 100 degree water, and then wrapping them in a heating pad, we were eventually able to get their body temperature back up to normal. The first time, it was really scary. The second time, I was really angry at myself for having to save another baby from near death by hypothermia.

Scandal isn't screaming or doing anything to make me think she is in distress, but the area between her ribs and her hips is hollowed out, which usually doesn't happen unless they're within 24 hours of giving birth. For the past 24 hours, I've continued to think that it won't be much longer ... eventually those babies will be ready to come out, and we can't forget that! I held my hand on her belly this afternoon, and the kids were kicking and wiggling around in there.

This evening, we put up the bucks across the creek in a pen made with temporary electrical fencing, so they can get some of this wonderfully fresh spring grass. Temporary fencing is made to be easily moved so they can have new fresh grass when they eat everything in their current pen.

My ankle is improving slowly. It still hurts a lot, and it has turned all kinds of pretty colors, but it only swells if I've been on my feet for an hour or two. That's an improvement. When I wake up in the morning, it feels good.

It's been a long day. The sun is going down later. We didn't get inside until after 8:00 tonight. I still need some dinner.


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