Saturday, May 31, 2008

Time for kids

Yes, it's time for more kids! Three days ago, Clare, our la mancha freshened with a single white, blue-eyed, elf-eared buckling. His daddy is my Nigerian buck, Valentino, which is where the blue eyes come from. Being a buck, however, this little guy is not eligible to be registered as an experimental mini-mancha because he has elf ears. La manchas have virtually no visible outer ear. In fact, most people ask, "What happened to its ears?" when they first see a la mancha. "They're born that way," I respond. To keep the breed as earless as possible, boys cannot be registered if they have elf ears, meaning they have something sticking out. I think the standard says an inch or two. This little guy definitely has something sticking out. They are so cute! But it means he's destined to be wethered. That's okay, though, because I have been wanting a larger wether to train for a cart, so that is his destiny.

We have five more goats due in the next months. I think three of them are due VERY soon because their tail ligaments are soft. One of them, Charlotte, is also getting a very nice udder! We took this picture two days ago. Charlotte is only a year old and is a perfect example of what copper deficiency can do. She was never sold because I honestly didn't think she was going to live -- for months! She was always this skinny little kid. She was much smaller than goats her age and was not growing. I only sell "healthy" goats, and even though we couldn't figure out what was wrong with her, it was obvious she was not healthy. Last fall, we discovered the copper deficiency and after giving her a copper bolus, she started to gain weight and look like a normal doe. By January, she was the same size as the other does her age, so we decided to breed her. Her udder is so beautiful and soft, I'm glad we kept her!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Busy morning

It's been a busy few hours, and I'm about to shower so I can go to the city an hour away for shopping. I need to get goat feed, some large quantities of sharp white cheddar, as well as a few other vegetables that we don't have at the moment, like onions and potatoes. Mike and I have decided to try our hand at making hard cheese again, but cheddar has to age, so we'll be buying it for several more months.

This morning, I made chevre (soft goat cheese), then I thinned the lettuces and had enough baby bronze romaine to make large salads for the three of us that are home today. I also picked radishes for our salads. Then I sorted several pounds of kidney beans, rinsed them, and started soaking them. Tomorrow I'll be using them for kidney bean spread with our green onions for lunch, as well as a dinner casserole. After lunch, I cut a basket full of fresh mint and laid it out to dry in the oven -- with a big purple post-it note that says "Do not use!" stuck to the oven control pad. I only put it in the oven so it is out of the way and won't get dusty. I'm looking forward to mint tea. I'm also thinking that I will get some apple juice today, so I can use it to make mint jelly. I'll need to cut more fresh mint for that.

After he weeded the garden, Mike butchered a rooster that will make chicken and dumplings in a couple days. The rooster has been going across the road to the newly-planted cornfield, and the farmer is mad about it. He's also mad about the geese, but we're not butchering all of them. We have to figure out a fencing system to keep them over here. We also need to keep them safe from coyotes, which come across the creek from the south -- the field is to the north -- so the fence issue will have to be addressed soon.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Coyote attacks

It was about 10:00 this morning. I was sitting at the table talking to my friend from grad school who will be moving back to Denmark next week. I was chatting and casually looking out across the pond when I saw the geese collectively rise and head to the pond with wings flapping. A brown coyote came leaping over the tall grass snapping at the adult geese. When his front feet hit the water, and he still did not have a goose, he turned and started snapping at the goslings who were still on dry land. From the moment I saw him, I started screaming, "Coyote! The geese! There's a coyote attacking the geese!" I went running onto the deck, still screaming, calling the coyote a few not-so-nice names. Katherine jumped off the deck about the time the coyote grabbed a gosling. He kept snapping, and it looked like he grabbed two of them, but I didn't think he'd be that ambitious. Mike came running out of the basement, asking where's the coyote. I told him it had taken off behind the pond. "Katherine's going after him!" Mike ran after Katherine.

I counted the goslings on the pond. Four. I counted again. Four. A few minutes later when Mike reappeared behind the pond, I yelled at him to count them. He counted four. There were six before the attack, so the coyote did grab two goslings. Mike came limping back to the deck. When he stepped up, I noticed he had lost a slipper somewhere in the grass as he was running. Later I learned that Katherine had taken off barefoot. She didn't come back for more than half an hour. She was determined (as usual) to at least get some answers. She thinks the coyote ran east; the humans ran south. I think the coyote ran west because that's the direction that Porter, the English shepherd, ran. I think his nose is better than our eyes.

Last week, we lost a turkey hen who was sitting on eggs. She seemed to have a nice secluded spot. It was under a fallen tree with lots of branches and tall grass around her. It was difficult for me to find her nest, but I don't have a coyote's nose. When I was coming home one day, I saw turkey feathers scattered on the unplanted corn field across the road. After parking the car, I walked to the place where the turkey had her nest. She was gone. There was nothing left but a pile of feathers, broken egg shells, and three cold, unbroken eggs.

If there can be any consolation, it would be that at least the goslings died quickly as the coyote crushed them. The turkey hen's fate was probably much worse. From seeing coyotes in action, we've learned that if they feel safe, coyotes will grab a bird, hold it down, and start to pull out the feathers while the bird is still alive. That's why there was a huge pile of feathers next to the turkey's nest.

It's unlikely that we'll have any home-hatched turkeys this year. A bourbon red hen had been faithfully sitting on eggs until the last day or two. They're not fertile. One exploded. Yes, it stinks horribly. Maybe the turkey hen also thinks it stinks. Maybe that's nature's way of telling her that it's time to give up and move on.

The coyote is definitely a problem. Now that he thinks he has discovered a wonderful buffet of poultry and water fowl, I doubt he'll want to move on. Last fall, we'd lost six lambs before we decided to have someone sleep in the pasture for more than a month. That was the only thing that got them to move on. The gosling attack was in daylight though. I'm not sure what we're going to do.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The mystery of the blood on the patio

Last night, Margaret came in and asked why there was blood on the patio. Blood? We went outside and saw a dozen or more spots of blood, some as big as a quarter. It was bright red, still wet. There was no bloody trail to see where the animal had come or gone. At this point, I should note that the "patio" is the concrete slab in front of our house that used to be under the mobile home, so it's 28 X 70 feet, and the blood was in the middle. I was immediately worried about our cats. We've been hearing coyotes a lot for the past few nights, but two of our three cats were found within minutes. The third one showed up on the back porch this morning. All ducks and geese are here. Everything else was locked up last night.

If a coyote or coon grabbed something right there, I doubt it would have started to eat it less than 20 feet from our front door, and if a coyote carried it off, wouldn't there be a trail of blood going somewhere? At this point my best guess is that Sneakers the barn cat killed and ate something there. In addition to killing mice and voles, he has also killed squirrels in the past.

Now it's time for me to get out in the garden and thin lettuce. It's really one of my favorite things to do in the garden because it means salad made from baby lettuces!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Back in the saddle -- with a passion

Since completing my master's degree, I've had time to spend with my animals, and I realized how removed I had been from everything on the farm. In some ways, I am looking at things through a stranger's eyes. I don't think that's a bad thing. In fact, I remember a friend once telling me her division at work was having a "fresh eyes" audit -- someone from the corporation was coming to check out their operations and see if anything needed to be changed.

I've realized that there are a lot of things that need to be changed. I suppose a lot of homesteaders go through this period. It takes time and experimentation to figure out what you want, what you really need, and what you can realistically handle. In my six years out here, I've seen a lot of people come and go. Houses on small plots of land have for-sale signs for the second time in only three or four years.

The lure of the country is strong. So many people say they'd love to do what we're doing -- live in the country, enjoy the peace and the stars at night, grow their own food. Few people even attempt it, and of those that do, many decide that it's not for them. They miss the instant access to food, entertainment, and even a gallon of milk. When we moved out here six years ago, I realized that what separated us from them was a goal bigger than ourselves. We didn't merely want the quiet existence of farm life or a few animals to decorate our pastures. We'd been vegetarians for 14 years because we did not approve of the confinement practices of modern agriculture. People would ask if we were vegetarians for health or ethical reasons, and we'd say "both." Moving here was an extension of that commitment to not only ourselves, but the world. We also did not approve of the practices of dairy farmers who kept cows confined or egg farmers who debeaked chickens and kept them in small cages. Unfortunately, our few feeble attempts at becoming vegan never lasted more than a few months.

A month before we moved out here, I had ordered my laying hens so that I could divest myself from the Big Ag egg industry as soon as possible. When I learned that chicks needed to stay inside under a heat lamp for a month, I decided that they could just as easily live in our basement in the suburbs, and we would be one month closer to those free-range eggs from happy chickens. I placed a deposit on my first milk goat and bought a milk bucket and cheese cultures. When we moved here in April 2002, we went right to work planning our garden and buying animals that would be our partners in providing us with food that we felt was better, not only for us, but better for the animals and the earth, as well.

Since then we have learned a lot. We have failed many times. Sometimes our mistakes make us laugh, and sometimes they make us cry. But even after our very worst failures, when we feel absolutely defeated, we have never thought about leaving. We know that we just have to try harder and learn more. And in our world where everyone talks about being "in control," we have to accept that there are things beyond our control. In a nation where egocentrism is epidemic, we realize that it is not all about us.

I'm back on the farm now full-time. I can't believe it's been two years since I was here virtually 24/7, but I'm glad to be back. How could I have left the day-to-day operations to my children? Why did I think I wanted or needed a master's degree? I'm not sure anymore. After living with the laws of the farm, the artificial world of academia was a surprising disappointment. I started grad school after being here for four years. Maybe I needed that experience to help me realize how much I love it here. And now I'm looking at everything with fresh eyes, thinking about what I want to change and what needs to be done better. I think I have discovered the definition of passion: The more I do here, the more I want to do and the more I care.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"The Year of the Goat"

Yesterday I finished grad school, and today I finished reading The Year of the Goat. The book has been sitting on the lower shelf of the table next to my bed since I purchased it in August, and I've read Chapter 14 quite a few times. In the interest of full disclosure, author Margaret Hathaway and photographer Karl Schatz visited us in their travels, and she wrote about their visit to our farm in Chapter 14. Now that I've thought about it, I did take it out a few times over the winter holidays to read Chapter 14 to friends and family who visited us.

Now that I've read the whole book, I can say that I love it. I wish I would have taken their logical approach to homesteading before moving out here. Imagine researching something for a whole year and traveling all around the country before finally deciding if it was right for you. When I bought my first goats, I didn't even know that they were born with horns. I had never even milked a goat. I just knew that I loved goat cheese. But enough about me . . .

Margaret and Karl were bona fide New Yorkers when they decided to set off on a 40,000 mile trip to figure out if they should become homesteaders and goatherds. This book is a travelogue of places they went, the things they learned, and the cheese they ate.

Although I've had goats for six years now, I learned a lot. We have dairy goats, and it was interesting to learn about meat goats and pack goats -- far more interesting to read in Margaret's poetically-conversational style than in a how-to book of raising meat goats or packing with goats.

My favorite part of the whole book was the last 20 pages, in which I got teary-eyed several times. No, I'm not going to tell you what happens in those 20 pages, because (1) I don't want to ruin it for you, and (2) I couldn't do it justice. Margaret's narrative style makes the book what it is -- a lovely work of art.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Boys will be boys

I used to hate it when people contributed a boy's bad behavior to his gender, but after living on a farm for just a couple years, I realized where some of those old ideas came from. When it comes to animals, hormones trump everything, and boys will be boys. We already know that several of our turkeys are males, because one started strutting, and then a couple more started to imitate him. The only time females strut is if they are feeling threatened, so it's pretty unlikely that a female turkey would be strutting at this age. If you look at his back end, where he will someday have tail feathers, and you can see that he is even trying to make his tail stand up. I still hate it when people say, "boys will be boys" about humans, because I think we are a bit more sophisticated and intelligent than turkeys.

And Coco finally decided to let us see her lovely kids. She woke me up at 3:35 a.m. on April 30 and gave birth to two huge bucklings about 20 minutes after I arrived in the barn. They were trying to stand within about 10 minutes, and the first one had nursed before he was 30 minutes old. The boys are as big as kids that are a couple weeks old, and they're doing great!


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