Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New pigs

The girls and I went down to pick up four new piglets today -- two gilts (baby girls) and two boars (uncastrated males). They are currently in the back of the pick-up truck because Mike couldn't find his tin snips to finish their shelter while we were gone. He did finally find them and is now working on getting their shelter done.
This is one of the gilts. They are easy to tell apart because the girls have notched ears, while the boys ears are not cut. The farmer must have been thinking of keeping these girls for breeding because that's how they identify pigs. Rather than tattooing like we do with goats or using ear tags like we do with sheep, they notch their ears. The location of the notch tells you what litter they came from and which pig number they were. Anyway, you wouldn't waste your time notching ears unless you were planning to register the pigs. Since the boys don't have notched ears, it means that their destiny has always been pork.

Looks like they have some lice eggs around their necks. The farmer said he hadn't put any powder on them, which makes me think that he normally does that -- puts delousing powder on them. This is the fourth time we've bought pigs from him, and they've never had lice before. So, we need to figure out how to deal with this. I certainly don't want them to have lice because they're blood suckers, and the pigs won't gain weight well if they have any kind of parasites.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Goats, geese, and watermelon seedlings

We've been busy with a variety of things the past few days. Of course, I have to spend a certain amount of time with my goats every day. I absolutely adore my two la mancha babies. The la mancha breed is certainly a great illustration of the saying, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." I think they are the most beautiful goats in the world with the teeny-weeny ears, but some people think they are hideous. Go figure.

We finally got some much-needed rain. We had none for two and a half weeks, and we got about an inch, so we can go a few days without worrying about watering. On one of the wet days, we spent almost the whole day cleaning out the small barn. I am hoping to have it cleaned out by the end of June, so we can have our goat show in there.

Mike got the entire "regular" garden planted. That is the first time we have ever planted every square inch of the garden, so we're pretty proud. Katherine and I also transplanted some watermelons into one of the permaculture areas. We put floating row covers on them to protect them from bugs. The next day, Mike and I were coming home from town, and when we pulled into the driveway, we saw the geese pecking and ripping at the row covers! Who knew geese loved watermelon seedlings? I jumped out of the car and chased them away. They have acres and acres of grass -- even a few dozen daylilies -- so I don't think they need my watermelon seedlings!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sheep shearing

It comes around every year, just like Christmas, although it's a lot more work than Christmas. I fell into bed last night at 8:47, feeling more exhausted than I could have even imagined. Every muscle was sore, and my feet felt like I had run a marathon.

The top picture shows what the wethers looked like before shearing.

And this is what a couple of the ewes looked like after shearing. They always look so small and naked after they're sheared. That's Cheyenne on the left and Pocahontas on the right. They are both daughters of White Feather, a black ewe with a tiny white streak on her forehead. She was one of the first two ewes I bought, and Pocahontas was one of the first lambs born on Antiquity Oaks.

And here are pictures of Snuggles, our lone Old English Babydoll Southdown before and after shearing. I always say that this is the only five minutes all year that he looks white. Southdowns have such a high lanolin content that every little bit of dust sticks to their fiber. The first year we had Snuggles, we used his wool for spinning, but we quickly learned that it was not as fine and silky as the Shetland. We asked the mill to make it into quilt batts the next year, but then we discovered needle-felting, and we haven't made a quilt yet!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Catching up!

Being a grad student took more effort than I expected. Being gone so much -- and having my brain devoted to two completely different goals -- caused a lot of things to slip under the rug here.

I spent much of yesterday catching up. I made a couple batches of soap and a batch of queso blanco cheese. I had also made three batches of soap on Saturday. I think I am finally caught up on the soapmaking, so I'll have enough variety to sell this summer.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Good news, bad news

The good news is that Lowe's had a sale on fruit trees -- 75% off! I bought a total of 18 trees, including apple, peach, pear, and plum. I paid $4 to $5 for each one. I went there to buy a couple of apple trees, assuming I'd be paying $20 each for them, to replace the trees the goats killed. I saw the sale and wound up buying a lot more! I could only buy four at a time because that's all that would fit in the van, so I made multiple trips. Whenever I was in the neighborhood, I'd drop by and get four more. Mike has planted all of them, and we're looking forward to them maturing in the next few years and providing us with lots of delicious fruit!

The bad news is that something ate more of my tomato plants, including four of the ones that were about a foot tall. They were eaten down to the dirt!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Our first la manchas!

I'm a little late with the pictures, but Muse, our la mancha doe, gave birth to twin doelings last Sunday. Since she had twin doelings before we bought her, we figured she'd have bucklings this time to even things out. We are thrilled that she had two does! At the moment, I'm thinking I want to keep them both. Since the only la mancha buck we own is their father, we can breed them to a Nigerian buck to make mini-manchas. We're calling this one Viola since she's mostly brown like a viola.

This is Clare, short for Clarinet. We chose musical names since their mama is Musical Thrill. Her previous owners called her Thrill, but I just couldn't bring myself to call her that, so we settled on Muse. If you can't see her ears, that's because she's a la mancha. Their ears are about 1/8 inch long, so it looks like they don't have any. These little girls are SO sweet. They are very friendly and just melt in your arms when you pick them up.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

What do I do?

Everyone says that moms do more than they think, and since I've been in grad school, I've come to realize that's true. There are tons of things around the house that I never thought about, but they are clearly important, and that becomes very obvious when they are not done. Shortly after moving here five years ago, I told a friend of mine that when one has a barn, it's just another house to clean. You don't think that a barn needs cleaning, but it does. It doesn't require mopping and dusting, but organizing and picking up trash and cleaning up spider webs is important. Well, I've just come to realize over the past few months that I do a lot more on the farm than I ever thought!

Margaret thought it was a joke when I told her that she would be the farm manager when I went to grad school. I guess she didn't think that I "do" much around here. Part of it doesn't look like work, I freely admit. Who would think I'm working when they see me out in the pasture watching the goat kids playing? It doesn't look like work when I sit in the pasture and watch the sheep graze. But those activities are an absolutely essential part of being a good farmer. Last fall, I wasn't around except on Saturday and Sunday, and after a couple of months, one of our bucks died from parasites. When I saw him, it was obvious to me. He was thinner than normal, and there wasn't as much meat on his spine as there should have been. Although the human kids had been feeding and watering them every day, they didn't stop to just watch the bucks grazing. Last summer, during my dreamy time in the pasture, I noticed a different buck looking like that. When I ran my hand down his back, I knew he was too thin, and I pulled his lip back, and his gums were not as pink as they should have been. I immediately gave him a dose of dewormer, and he is in great shape today.

As someone once said, if you love your job, you'll never work a day in your life. If you're one of those people who's dreamed of living on a farm, you're probably think that this doesn't sound like work. But for people who thrive on deadlines, it would be torture to stand in the pasture just watching animals graze.

A friend from Chicago comes to visit every few months, and it's clearly not fun for him to stand out there watching animals. When I stop and start to stare at an animal, he'll say, "Okay, let's go." Then I have to explain why I'm watching, and he moves into task mode, asking what we need to "do" to accomplish the job. Once I just needed to watch a newborn lamb for a little while to make sure he was nursing and that his plumbing worked. Another time, I just needed to sit in the pasture and let baby goats climb all over me as part of their continued socialization curriculum. "How long do you have to do this?" he asked. I never thought about it. Usually I do it until I start thinking about how much other stuff I have to do, and I start to feel guilty about "wasting" time watching lambs or playing with kids.

But as I have come to realize, I have not been wasting time. Watching the animals is an important -- essential -- part of being a responsible farmer. I have also realized that this is who I am. This is where I am supposed to be. This is my true calling. I went two whole years without ever getting a single cold, even when other family members got sick. At the end of my first semester of grad school, I had a gallbladder attack. After doing some research, I learned that the gallbladder (like other parts of the digestive system) is negatively affected by stress. Currently, with only final exam week left, I find myself with a cold and sore throat. Stress also creates havoc for the immune system.

When people outside my family said they didn't know how I was going to go to grad school and continue running the farm, I thought they didn't know what they were talking about. I've always done more than most people thought possible, always been busy. But they were right. I don't think I'm doing a very good job of grad school or farming right now. I know I'm not. I can't split my brain between the two. I can't continue to be the kind of farmer I want to be and be an exceptional grad student. But who says I need to be an outstanding grad student? My heart is here. I understand now that I can't do both things equally well. Something has to take priority. Let's see, what's more important -- my goats or my political communication paper? Will anyone in this world really care if I get a B instead of an A in that class? Would anyone even care if I got a C? Of course, if I get an A in every class, I'll be happy for a few days.

But if my goats are healthy and well-socialized, I will be happy for the life of those goats, for as long as they are making me smile and laugh with their pasture antics -- and every day that they are giving me their delicious milk. If I have fresh, homegrown produce to eat all summer and into the fall, I'll be healthier. If I have fruits and vegetables to freeze for the winter, I'll be smiling in the darkest days of December when I have a peach pie. And if I'm able to put a homegrown, free-range, organic turkey on the Thanksgiving table, then that will truly be something to be thankful for.


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