Monday, June 23, 2008

Hay day

Friday our neighbor baled our hay, and it was then our job to bring it to the barn from our hayfield. I drove the truck.I had to keep an eye on my husband and son through the rear-view mirrors to make sure I wasn't driving too fast or too slowly. They walked through the field, picked up the bales off the field and tossed it onto the pickup truck bed, and then my daughter stacked it in for the 1/4 mile trip to the barn. It took three trips to get the 85 bales from our field to our barn, where my husband unloaded, and the two kids stacked the hay.

And where do we get all this energy? Good farm cooking! For breakfast, we had open-faced omelets made with 100% home-grown ingredients: eggs, goat milk, goat cheese, and green onions! Delicious!

The price of hay is skyrocketing this year, so we're happy to have 85 bales from our own field. Between the price of corn and diesel, hay prices have doubled or tripled in the past year. The cost of diesel to operate machinery has obviously made it more expensive to bale hay, but the more unknown part of the equation is that corn prices have skyrocketed making it more profitable for farmers to grow corn, and thereby creating a hay shortage. So, anyone who grows hay can pretty much name their price. Last year, it was $3 per bale. This year it's $5 to $9, depending on who you're talking to. And it sounds like Illinois has the lowest hay prices in the country. We're hearing about $15-20 a bale in Texas and $20-30 a bale out west.

Being able to produce your own hay has become a vital part of being self-sufficient. Mike has purchased a scythe so we can start to harvest hay from more of our 32 acres that are inaccessible to modern haying equipment. I'll be writing about that soon!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Food from the farm

I love, love, love this time of year. We eat like royalty and lose weight! Almost everything we're eating now is from our own land and labor. It's fresh, delicious, easy on the environment, and inexpensive. Last night we had salad and pork shoulder steaks with chocolate pudding for dessert. Breakfast today was mulberry muffins. We're having salad, quiche, and ice cream for lunch. Dessert for tonight's dinner is in the oven as I type -- creme brulee pie. About the only thing we need to buy are the staples -- flour, sugar, vanilla, cocoa. And, YES, cocoa is an absolutely essential staple!

My quiche is crustless, which makes it super fast to whip up in the blender. I pour 1 1/2 cups of fresh goat milk into the blender, add 3 fresh eggs, 1/2 cup of flour, a pinch of salt, and blend. Today I substituted 5 egg whites for the whole eggs, since I had egg whites left over from making the ice cream, which uses only egg yolks.

Spray a pie plate or quiche dish with non-stick cooking spray, or butter it, and arrange fresh spinach evenly in the pan. Add a block of goat cheese in little pieces. If you slice the goat cheese, it'll break up into pieces, which are just about perfect. My goat cheese blocks are about 5-6 ounces each. Snip some fresh green onions on the top, and pour the blender mix into the pan to cover the spinach and cheese.

Stick it in the oven at 400 degrees for about 30-35 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean -- and the slice you made does not look like there is raw egg and milk floating around. Today I'm doing it at 350 for 50 minutes because I put it in the oven at the same time as the creme brulee pie.

The best part of this is that we're so busy that I can eat like this with dessert at every meal and an afternoon snack of cheesecake or pie or pudding, and I'm losing weight! Ye-e-e-es! I love summer!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sucking disorder in a goat kid?

It makes sense that if something can happen in one species of mammal, it could happen in another species of mammal, right? One thing that most people don't know about me is that I was an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and a La Leche League leader in a former life that ended about 10 years ago. One of my mantras was that breastfeeding was not supposed to hurt -- if it hurts, something is wrong. Often, the baby did not have enough of the nipple (and breast) in his or her mouth, which made the end of the nipple red and sore. The same thing is now happening with one of Star's kids, and Star is not liking it. I don't blame her.

Normally, she could be nominated (and probably win) Goat Mother of the Year. She does things that I don't see other does do. For example, after a kid has nursed for a while, she walks over to another kid and encourages it to nurse. Most goat dams don't pay attention to who is nursing, as long as it is one of their kids. Star is an outstanding mother, but this is trying her patience. I noticed yesterday that the tiniest of her doelings was not nursing correctly. Star has very long teats, about 2-3 inches long at rest. This is pretty long for a Nigerian dwarf. Her kid is tiny -- less than two pounds. The little doe is sucking on only the tip of the teat. Yesterday, I looked at the tip and noticed that it was turning red, which is clearly a sign that something is wrong, because this goat has black teats. I also could not hear the doeling swallowing, which is another sign that she is not nursing correctly. Today, the little girl still is not nursing correctly, and Star is starting to side-step when the little doe latches on, which means she is pulling the teat out of the doeling's mouth. In other words, she doesn't want to let the doeling nurse. She is still completely willing to let the other kids nurse though.

Here is a picture of the little doe nursing incorrectly. See how she is only sucking on the tip of the teat. There is quite a bit of space between her nose and the udder.

Here is a kid that's nursing correctly. See how the tip of her nose is up against the udder. When a human baby nurses correctly, the tip of its nose also touches the breast.

I used to see the same problem in human babies, usually after they'd had a bottle or two or three. Bottle nipples for human babies are much shorter than a human nipple when it is inside a baby's mouth, so when human babies suck on an artificial nipple, some of them get the idea that they should be sucking on something at the front of their mouth. In the case of this little girl, I think her diminutive size is the main culprit. Her mouth is just too tiny for her mama's long teats. She'd probably be perfectly fine if she were the kid of a first freshener that had tiny teats.

But Star is her mommy, and we have to play the cards we're dealt. Contrary to what I would have done with a human baby, I have given the doeling a bottle three times now -- once last night, and twice today. The Pritchard teat is a long, soft nipple that is pretty similar to a goat's teat. In this case, I think it might be helpful because this little doe obviously doesn't like the idea of something farther back in her mouth. The Pritchard teat is long, hopefully helping her to get used to the idea of sucking on something longer. Tonight I heard her swallow for the first time when she was nursing on her mama, so I am hopeful that she'll make more progress overnight.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Plans? What plans?

If you're going to be a homesteader, the first thing you have to learn is that control is an illusion. You can make plans, but you really have no control over any of it. I was reminded of that lesson again today. This morning, Star gave birth to three beautiful little doelings. Normally, this would be a cause for celebration, since doelings are generally more prized than bucklings, but this situation is different.

Star was the very first milk goat I ever bought. She's been very special to me for many reasons. The first year we had kids, I kept all three of Star's bucklings. After agonizing for months, I finally decided which one to keep as a buck, and I wethered the other two. The boys were George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, which seemed appropriate since the three of them were the first triplet bucks born on our farm. John Adams ultimately was allowed to keep his testicles, but he was used very little. His first daughter is now ARMCH Antiquity Oaks Carmen *D VG. Yes, he was a good sire, and he was a good buck in his own right. He earned four grand champions, but he was not a finished champion because of politics. He was not registered in ADGA, and the two ADGA judges that gave him champion titles refused to sign the win forms. He died during my first semester of grad school. It was one of many things that caused me to feel guilty about being gone so much. If only I'd been home, maybe I would have noticed something was wrong, and we could have saved him.

I used another of Star's boys as a sire, but then sold him before I'd seen the result -- Anne Bronte, another beautiful doe that is a good milker. So, for the past two years, as I've watched Star age, I've said that I was going to keep a buck from her and retire her. Last year, she gave us triplet does, and this year again, she's given us triplet does. She's 9 years old now, and I really can't see breeding her again. She didn't maintain her body condition as well this time as she has in year's past. She loves her baby girls as much as ever, and she is the same doting mother she's always been. She actually reminds me of my own mother, always saying, "Eat, eat!" I had to laugh this morning when I saw her pushing her little doe towards her udder, even though that little doe had just nursed.

I don't know if Star will be happy next year without babies though. One year, she didn't get pregnant, and she was trying to steal other kids from their dams. She would walk between the kid and its mom and push the kid towards her back end where her udder would have been if she'd had one at the time. It was so sad. I finally had to isolate her from the new moms and their babies. When her first three boys were old enough to be sexually mature, I separated them from her until I could decide which ones to castrate. A month later, I finally made my decision, castrated TJ and Georgie and put them back in the pen with the does. Then a few days later, when Star came inside for the night, I started to milk her and got only drops -- she had let them start nursing again after being separated for a month! When I think of how much she has always loved her babies, that makes the decision much more difficult about whether or not to retire her from breeding.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Shearing day

This morning began at 6:00 for Mike who made homemade cinnamon rolls for the family. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone on a farm gets up at the crack of dawn, which is happening at 4:30 in Illinois this time of year. We are also not unwilling to use modern conveniences like a bread-making machine to have the dough ready to roll out at 6 a.m.

As expected, the sheep shearer arrived at 7:30. In less than two hours, we had 19 sheep sheared, and he was on his way to the next farm. Shearing day really is more than just shearing. Since we have our hands on the sheep -- not an easy task for some of the less-friendly sheep -- we take the opportunity to check their physical condition, trim hooves, deworm if necessary, and in the case of one ram, we check the horns to make sure they aren't growing into his head. On shearing day, everyone in our family of five has a job.

Mike was the person to catch the sheep, which wasn't too tough since 15 of them were in a 10 X 15 stall, where we put them last night. We didn't bother locking up Princess because she is so friendly, she's downright annoying. I think she might have been mad at us after shearing though. She certainly was not one of the more complacent sheep. We also didn't catch Snuggles last night for a similar reason -- he's so fat and lazy, he is not hard to catch. In fact, saying that we "catch" him is really giving us more credit than we deserve. Then there were the two senior rams, who have been in their own pen since last fall. So, mostly Mike's job was to grab the sheep nearest him and lead it to the shearer whenever he was ready for the next one.

As the shearer finished each sheep, Margaret and Jonathan would take them and trim their hooves. In this picture, Jonathan is holding Snuggles (an Old English Southdown, my only non-Shetland) while Margaret gives him his pedicure. I wrote the name of each sheep on a large white trash bag, then Katherine gathered up each fleece as the shearer finished, and she put the fleeces into the bags as I held them. I administered the dewormer during the sheep's pedicure. I came up with the brilliant idea of referring to the shearing day as the sheeps' spa day, hoping it might help them to have a more positive outlook on the event, but they don't seem nearly as happy as I am when I have a pedicure or get my hair cut.

The strangest part of the whole ordeal from a human perspective is that when a sheared sheep rejoins the flock, everyone else starts picking on them. When I get a haircut and a pedicure, people tell me how nice I look. Sheep, however, have an entirely different perspective. This is mostly a problem with dominant sheep. Suddenly they look much smaller, so the other sheep think they can now become dominant over this wimpy little sheep.The spotted Shetlands look so much more spotted when they've just been sheared.

Shearing day is one of my favorite days of the year. I love days when we get up early and get so much done. And I think we are teachable! So many people say they could never do what we do, but I know they aren't giving themselves enough credit. This year went smoother than any year prior to this. Mike laughed and said, "I think we can keep the sheep now." Yes, life is good when it feels like you might actually know what you are doing.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Learning to herd

We rounded up the sheep in a record-setting 20 minutes tonight, thanks to our English shepherd, Porter. If you've been reading this blog in past years, you know that it has been taking us longer and longer each year to round up the sheep for shearing. And the time has been counted in hours, rather than minutes.

All was not perfect tonight, but compared to previous years, we are all ecstatic. Porter is a little more than a year old, so he still has a lot to learn, but he helped us tremendously. I've been working with him to herd the geese. Whenever the geese get close to the road, I take Porter outside, and he herds them back to the pond. He's been getting much better at each aspect of the job. He goes after them more quickly, and he's easier to call off when we're done.

I've only had him work the sheep a couple of times, but one thing that I've noticed is that he is much harder to call off when working with the sheep. With a perfectly trained and experienced dog, the sheep would have been herded into the barn to wait for the shearer, who is coming tomorrow. That's not quite what happened. Rather than herding them into the barn, Porter herded them into a corner and wouldn't let them leave. We figured we could work with that, so everyone grabbed a sheep and carried or led them to the barn.

Later, as we were eating dinner on the deck, I commented on how smoothly it went, and how it only took about 20 minutes. Margaret said with a smile, "Yeah, after we gave up on that stupid cracker idea." Okay, yeah, that was a bad idea. My sheep love crackers, but they just know -- I don't know how they know -- but they just know when we have "evil" intentions, and they won't come near us! Still, like years past, we tried the crackers. And like years past, it didn't work any better this year. I'm so glad we had Porter to help us!

Wish I had some pictures to share, but considering how much he has been herding lately, I'm sure I'll have some pictures of him working soon. Today, he herded the goats back from the wrong side of the barn to the gate where they needed to get back to the pasture where they belonged. I can't believe I thought we'd only be using him once a year. Hardly a day goes by when he isn't herding someone for us.

Now it's time for bed. The sheep shearer is arriving at 7:30, so you'll definitely be getting pictures tomorrow.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Living with arthritis

One of the reasons I came to the realization that I can't have a desk job is because I was diagnosed with arthritis about five months ago. Yeah, I figured I shouldn't be spending hours on the computer every day, because I was in pain, but then in January, my neck locked up and I found myself at the doctor's office. I couldn't turn my head from side to side, so after a series of x-rays, a diagnosis was made that I had bony changes in my neck -- arthritis.

I resisted the idea of taking drugs, but being unable to turn my head from side to side, as well as having horrible headaches, I finally relented. For awhile I was taking seven pills a day, but after a few changes, we wound up with an anti-inflammatory (2X daily) and a muscle relaxer that I could take up to three times a day, but I tried to only do two. The physical therapist convinced me that I wasn't going to make much progress in physical therapy if I didn't take the medication to get the swelling down and to get the muscles relaxed. So, I had nine weeks of physical therapy, and finally I had some decent mobility in my neck. I was released from physical therapy with daily stretching exercises and a home traction unit. The physical therapist told me that part of my problem was ridiculously weak muscles in my upper back.

He was actually thrilled when I told him that I live on a farm and have started doing more chores. When I was in grad school, I pretty much let the girls take over all my chores, not realizing that I was causing myself to have some problems as a result. The physical therapist gave me ideas on how to gradually increase my strength using water buckets and other farm chores as "therapy."

After the semester was done, I gradually weaned myself off all the arthritis drugs, and I've been feeling so much better. I'm stiff in the morning, but once I do my stretches and use the traction unit, I'm ready to take on anything. Another thing I've noticed is that I am in a much better mood when I spend the whole day working outside with the animals or in the barn or doing something physical.

Then two days ago, Katherine and I spent the whole day in town at Margaret's new shop. I foolishly spent six hours knitting. I should have known how bad that would be for me. I was making a conscious effort to stretch my neck regularly, but that was obviously not good enough. Now, I've been in terrible pain for two days, desperately trying to not start taking the drugs again, but remembering what the physical therapist said -- maybe I should take them for a few days to get the swelling down and get the muscles relaxed again?

I've discovered so many benefits to living out here -- so many more benefits than I ever thought existed. Humans weren't made for sitting around. I think it's funny that when we lived in the suburbs, I'd drive my car to a gym to lift weights that were meaningless, bike to nowhere or walk to nowhere, staring at nothing but exercise equipment and other people going nowhere. It's more meaningful, more fun, and more interesting to carry water buckets or walk around 32 acres of wooded pasture land. And I think it's probably more beneficial to me, the animals, and the environment.
Our newest addition! Butterfly gave birth to this beautiful little girl two days ago!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Like mother, like daughter

We have really come to appreciate that cliche out here. There is a lot to genetics, and Charlotte proved it again yesterday afternoon. An older couple came by to buy a pair of wethers as pets, mostly for their grandkids to play with when they visit. As we were leaving the barn, I heard Charlotte let out a scream that translated as, "I'm in pa-a-a-a-a-a-ain!!!" It was quite different from the whiny "Don't leave me!" sound she makes.

Since she's a first freshener, I didn't rush too much, but I did go back in there as soon as the couple was gone. I took one look at her and knew she was really pushing. Head stretched out, tail curled over her back, long scream, vagina bulging, and a little string of mucous hanging out -- definitely pushing! I yelled, hoping Katherine would hear me on the baby monitor, "She's pushing! Bring the camera!" I went to the store room and grabbed a couple of clean towels. About 10 minutes later, Katherine and I were sitting with her in the stall when Charlotte plopped down on Katherine and got very serious. Charlotte spent the first month of her life sleeping in Katherine's bed and being read bedtime stories, so I think she reverted here when she was kind of scared about what was happening to her.

She gave birth to one huge buckling. As soon as we saw his size, we didn't expect any additional kids. We were worried about Charlotte's mothering instincts at first. She wasn't licking her baby, and she just kept curling her lip up. When I realized she wasn't licking him, I quit drying him. I figured I needed to give her something to clean up, and the last thing I want is a goat who gives birth thinking that I'm going to do all the work for her. She needs to know what she's supposed to do just in case I'm not there! She started licking up the fluids and blood on the towels where the baby was laying, so we got rid of the towel. Finally, she started licking him.

The funniest thing is that she wouldn't stand up. He was obviously hungry and looking for his first meal, and while laying on her side, she lifted her hind leg. "Does she think she's a cat?" I asked Katherine, "or a pig? This is not how goats nurse their babies!" But I figured that any bit of colostrum was good, regardless of how it was obtained, so we scooted the little guy over there, and as soon as his lips touched the teat, he grabbed it and started sucking.

She did eventually stand up, and they did eventually figure out the nursing thing, even though he is on the wrong end in this picture. He is a cutie, and Charlotte is adjusting to her new role as a mommy.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The best laid plans of a homesteader

My plan for Annie's birth was to photographically record a normal goat birth, then create an educational article for my goat website. Ah, plans . . . It all started out great yesterday, as it appeared Annie was progressing slowly and predictably. Her tail ligaments were gone in the morning. (Note to self: take a picture of how to check for tail ligaments next time.) And she was acting like a goat in early labor. She wasn't very interested in food. She stuck next to me like glue. She got upset when I left. But she was happy, so I knew nothing was imminent.

Here's Annie sort of thinking about this pushing thing, but not seriously, because she's quiet, and she only did it every hour or so. She wasn't screaming, so even though this is not a normal goat posture, she wasn't upset.

After spending a few hours with her at different times throughout the day, I went to the garden and picked mustard greens for dinner.

Then I decided to have some goat yogurt with homemade peach preserves swirled through it at 5:45 since I knew dinner wouldn't be ready for another hour, and I was starving.
When I went out to the barn for one final check on Annie before devoting myself to dinner preparation, it was obvious that Annie was not terribly happy anymore.
If you've ever given birth, you can relate to this picture. I always feel sorry for first fresheners. They have no idea what's going on.
As you can see from the picture below, there are two distinct bags of water sticking out. When I first noticed that, I was amused. "Look at that, Katherine! It's a double bubble." She stopped taking pictures. "Uh, Mom, it's two separate sacs. It's two kids." When that thought registered, I reached down and slipped my finger between the two bags. There were hard things -- babies -- in each sac, right there, wanting to be born now! With my fingers between the two bags, I felt the parts of each baby, trying to visualize what I was feeling. The top one was definitely two hooves and a head, which is perfect. I wasn't completely sure what I was feeling on the other one, so I decided that the one who was lined up perfectly would be first.

I held back one kid while the other one was born. I was surprised at how hard it was to hold back that second kid, and a flash of panic went through my mind -- what if they're Siamese twins! Lucky for me, the first one came out before I had time to panic too much about that possibility.

The second kid just sort of fell out before we even had the head cleaned off on the first one.
And here are the two dry, fluffy kids a couple hours later. The black and white one is a doeling, and the cream one is a buckling.
I still want to create a photographic article about normal goat birth, but I guess this just wasn't meant to be the time. I took 94 pictures yesterday, and only six of them were pictures of food. Annie and her kids were the subject of the other 88. Unfortunately, I have no pictures at all of the kids actually being born.

Charlotte's ligaments are gone today, but I'm not holding out a lot of hope that I'll get any pictures of her birth, even though she is a first freshener like Annie. Charlotte is one of Sherri's girls, and kids just fly out of them. In fact, Sherri has always had triplets or quads, and the only reason I have to be there is because she can't clean them off fast enough. Her daughter, Shirley, almost died from hypothermia, because no one was there when she was born. So, whenever Sherri is due, I am always worried about being there. What has happened every year since the Shirley incident is that Sherri goes into labor in the middle of the night when no one is around, and she does not make one single sound until the head is actually emerging, at which point I fly out of bed, pull on the clothes that were waiting for the moment, and I go running to the barn to hear a kid screaming as I head towards the stall with my armful of towels. Her daughters, Shirley and Anne, have already proven to have their mom's talent for kidding, and I expect nothing less from Charlotte.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Pudding season

When you're living on a farm or eating what's in season, you learn quickly that everything has a season. The only time we eat pudding is summer. That's when the milk supply is plentiful, and there is enough left over from making cheese, buttermilk, and yogurt, to make things like pudding and ice cream. While most Americans would probably be upset about not having their favorite foods 12 months a year, there is a certain amount of wisdom in the reality. Pudding and ice cream season is also the time of year when we are busy enough to burn off the extra calories we consume in the pudding and ice cream! Yesterday, I made the first pudding of the season -- butterscotch with nutmeg. It was delicious!

Now it's time to head back outside and check on Annie Oakley. Looks like she'll be kidding today!


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