Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I can't believe I haven't posted since Sunday. I had so much I wanted to write! Then life happened. At least I only have two days left to teach, and I'll have two months vacation before starting again in August.

We had a big party for my husband's family on Father's Day, then the refrigerator stopped working. It was running non-stop and couldn't get any colder than about 50 degrees. Since it is only four years old and already needed a repair last year, we decided it probably wasn't worth saving so we went shopping yesterday and bought a new one.

I had to go to Urbana on Monday to check out my oldest child's new abode, and grading has been keeping me terribly busy. In fact, I'm getting home and then having to spend a few hours grading, so I'm only getting about six hours of sleep each night. I know six hours is enough for some people, but not me, sadly. I wish I could survive on only a couple hours of sleep each night. Sleep really seems like a waste of time, but it's necessary.

Lucky for me, Mike and the kids sheared most of the sheep yesterday while I was teaching. I've asked Margaret to write a blog post about it, but I'm not sure if she will. I did take a picture of her and her dad -- they reminded me of the Pig Pen character in Charlie Brown! They were covered with dirt from head to toes, and they smelled like lanolin.

Most of the rams and wethers still need to be sheared, so I'll probably wind up helping with them next week. Today, the hay from our field was baled, so that needs to be picked up and stacked. Problem is that only Jonathan and I are home, and it's supposed to rain tonight, so it'll be interesting this evening. A load of alfalfa is also supposed to be delivered tomorrow.

And did I mention that temperatures are hovering in the mid-90s with "real feel" temps above 100?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Berry-picking time has begun

I ate my first fresh mulberries a few days ago and had my first mulberry muffins on Wednesday. I love mulberry muffins. I just use a blueberry muffin recipe and substitute mulberries. Now, we're talking about making mulberry smoothies made with our homemade yogurt.

Cherries are also starting to ripen, and at the end of this month, we will be drowning in raspberries that grow wild in the woods. At the end of July, it will be time for blackberries.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads who read my blog!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Time for ducklings

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I've been worried about not seeing three of our ducks for a month now. I've been hoping that they were setting, rather than being digested in a coyote's stomach. Thursday night, we were eating dinner on the deck, which overlooks the pond, and I shrieked, "Ducks!" and pointed towards the edge of the pond near the chicken house. Mike thought something was wrong, but I quickly corrected myself by adding, "Baby ducks!"

We now have six ducks again, and they have seven ducklings following them. I have no idea which ducklings belong to which ducks, but it doesn't really matter anyway. One thing I've learned about domesticated ducks and geese is that they fully support the idea of a village raising a child.

On a sadder note, the mama goose has finally given up. There is only one egg left on her nest. At least she is not injured. Perhaps in the goose world, she is considered a less-than-adequate mother, but I'm glad she ran when the coyote kept coming back to her nest. The last poor goose stood up to the coyote three years in a row. She was badly injured the first two years, and this year, she was eaten.

I shouldn't get too excited about the ducklings, however, because there is a giant snapping turtle in the pond, and she eats all the ducklings that swim out there. Trying to keep ducklings out of a pond is not an easy task. Two years ago, Margaret and I tried to catch ducklings. After an hour of running around, I wound up with heat exhaustion. It is not an experience I want to repeat. Unfortunately, we really didn't learn much from the experience, so I'm not terribly optimistic about our chances of trying to help.

Friday, June 19, 2009

It's baby goat time again!

If you want to see what's in my pantry, you'll just have to wait, because I have much more exciting news to share.

Yesterday, a reporter from the local daily paper was here interviewing me because we'll be demonstrating spinning and soapmaking at a local festival at the end of the month. We were talking in the living room when Mike came through the door and said, "Jo is kidding. The first kid is halfway out." I grabbed a couple towels and ran to the barn.

The first kid was laying in the straw behind Jo, who was laying there like she was having a day on the beach. I picked him up and laid him on a towel in front of her, and she immediately started licking him while I cleaned mucous off his nose. Katherine arrived, then Mike and the reporter. As soon as he heard it was a little white buck with black spots, he went back to work in the other barn, thinking this would be the only kid. After all, Jo was not very big, and we were expecting a single kid.

Less than five minutes later, she pushed again. A big bubble appeared under her tail, and a moment later, a kid plopped out onto the straw. I started to dry it with the clean towel and placed it next to its brother. It was a doe!

We chatted with the reporter, thinking that Jo had given birth to buck-doe twins. The next thing we know, she made a little noise, and I saw another bubble appear under her tail. A third kid went plop on the straw, and I used the already-wet towel to dry off the nose as I looked under the kid's tail to determine its gender. Another doe!

Both of the girls are already sold. The one that's about half white will be going to a woman who only lives half an hour away, and she has already come to visit. The other one will be going to the East Coast this fall with six other kids. As for the little buck, I don't normally keep them as bucks when they come from first fresheners, but this little guy has some great genetics behind him, so it is very tempting. I will wait to see how Jo's udder develops and how she milks before deciding if he'll get to hang on to the family jewels.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My history with organics

After reading Carolina Trekker's comment on yesterday's post, I thought some of you might like to know a little more about my history with organics. It starts a long time ago, when I was just a young 'un. My mother had grown up during the Great Depression (she was 40 when I was born), and she was a big proponent for the newest "food" in the grocery store. Didn't matter what it was, she'd say, "Eat that. It's good for you." Seriously, she'd say that about potato chips, frozen pizza, and canned Spaghetti-Os!

It should come as no surprise that I was sick -- a lot! By the time my first child was born when I was 24, I had started to think that maybe I was sick so much as a child because my diet was not particularly nutritious. But in my mother's defense, let me take a step back. When she grew up, you could say, "It's good for you," about everything that was edible. It was before the days of 8-syllable ingredients on food labels that were six inches long. People only ate food. There was no high-fructose corn syrup, margarine, or hydrogenated vegetable oil. And my mother had grown up on a farm, so she ate a lot of fresh, organic food.

The big buzz words after World War II became modern and scientific. And like almost all Americans, she jumped on the bandwagon and started buying margarine and using chemical pesticides in her garden. But with people like Eleanor Roosevelt trumpeting the superiority of margarine, it should be no surprise that most Americans switched to the artificial "food."

When I was pregnant with my first child, I honestly thought I was having a nutritious meal when I ate a cheeseburger and fries. I had my meat, my dairy, my starch, and my vegetables (pickles, lettuce, and potatoes). Yes, I seriously thought potato chips were a vegetable. I had the four food groups covered! What more did I need?

Luckily, after my baby was born, I went to a La Leche League meeting, and they were talking about nutrition. Someone had created a nutrition game, and the only thing I remember 21 years later was one of the questions. "Is a cheese sandwich a nutritious lunch?" Good thing I didn't get that question! A woman responded that it would be nutritious if you were talking about cheddar and whole wheat bread, but not so nutritious if it was white bread and American processed cheese. Was she speaking English? There's a difference between breads and cheeses. And that's where my nutrition education began. I started reading everything I could find on nutrition. I didn't want my children to grow up sick all the time like I had.

So, in the late 1980s, I began feeding my family homemade whole wheat bread, buying organic food, reading labels, and cooking a lot from scratch. A year later, we became vegetarians, and all three of my children were raised as vegetarians. For years, I rolled my eyes as people told me that my children were going to be anemic, weak, and sick -- as they were taking their own children to the pediatrician, getting tubes in their ears, and giving them antibiotics on a fairly regular basis. My children were never sick.

To this day, my 16-year-old has never taken antibiotics. My 18-year-old son was on antibiotics when he had an abscessed tooth, and my now 21-year-old daughter took them when she had Lyme disease at age 3. If they get a virus, they go to bed for a few hours, sometimes a day, and they're fine. My youngest had an earache once, but it was gone by morning.

If you've read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, it should not be a big surprise that we're so healthy. We "eat food, mostly plants, not too much."

Tomorrow, you'll get to peak inside my pantry.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Coyotes are makin' me mad

Of course, getting mad is not going to do one bit of good. But it seems like it might make me feel a little better to go outside and scream a few profanities into the woods at the coyotes that are no doubt hiding in there.

Monday night, I had just laid down in bed when I heard the most horrid, long-winded screech. I flew out of bed, screaming that the coyotes were attacking something, and I went running out the dining room door, barefoot, in my gown. Jonathan went running out the front door. He got a lot farther than I did, since he was wearing shoes. He went to the chicken house and said he didn't see anything. The chicken house was closed up tight, and there wasn't a predator inside.

As it turned out, Mike had just pulled into the driveway, and he and Margaret also heard the torturous sound. He asked me what it was. I said it sounded like a chicken, but Jonathan hadn't found anything. Mike thought it sounded like a goat kid, and there is a doeling in the pasture just behind the chicken house, so he went out to check on her.

Instead, he found a badly injured chicken just outside the fence to the goat pasture. Just as Mike found her, Sovalye the Anatolian arrived. He had been in the goat pasture when the attack occurred. I was surprised that the coyote dropped the chicken, but the only way out was past the house, so I guess the coyote figured it would be tough enough to get past us by himself, and he should forget the chicken.

The chicken was dead by Tuesday morning.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Screening of FRESH scheduled on the farm

At 7 p.m. Friday, July 31, we'll be hosting a screening of FRESH! on our farm. Here's a trailer:

If you're not in our area, check their websites for screenings near you, or you can buy a DVD and host your own screening.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Farms in Chicago? YES!

This 9-minute video talks about the variety of gardens in the city, from schools to rooftops to railroad embankments. This is very good news indeed!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Exciting new program provides local food

There is some exciting news coming from Bureau County, Illinois. They're creating a garden at one of the schools to improve nutrition and encourage physical activity among the district's 1,100 students. They want their cooks to start cooking again, instead of just opening boxes of prepared foods.

Why are they doing this? Because they discovered some disturbing facts about an eight-county area that includes Bureau County. "According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, in three of the eight counties, more than 65 percent of the population is overweight or obese. The other five don’t fall far behind." Another sad fact is that,
According to statistics provided by the American Corn Growers Association, six of the eight counties targeted by the program were recently placed on the poverty watch or warning lists. Building self-sustainable communities that can fulfill their own basic needs means not relying on external help in times of trouble.

And the benefits of the program are
Increasing local food supply for local consumption reduces human impact on the environment and supports the local economy in a time when the average food mile is 1,500 miles and $48 billion leaves the state for food procurement each year.
“We’re increasing access to fresh, natural food, and the money stays in the community. It’s a win-win for everyone,” Horwitz said.

There are also educational benefits. Rare and unusual fruits and vegetables will be included, so teachers can take students to the garden and talk about the food that was eaten by Native Americans, Thomas Jefferson, or George Washington.

It is truly turning into a community garden as local businesses, clubs and students pitch in. The garden will be 1/4 acre this year, but it will increase to an acre and a half by the third year. It would be great if more school districts decided to follow suit!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Life happens

Life is about to get really crazy. Starting Wednesday, I will be teaching every day, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to almost noon. The garden is still not completely planted, and there are plenty of things around the homestead that need to be done -- like shearing sheep and trimming hooves on all the animals that have hooves.

We sheared Rambrandt today. Poor boy was unlucky enough to go through the electric fence right there in front of us. So, Mike grabbed him, and we sheared him. It only took about five or ten minutes, which is long by professional standards, but not bad for a family of amateurs. Now that he's sheared, he probably won't be so quick to go through the fence. (The wool insulates them from the shock.) The good thing about rooing is that all the bad wool comes off first, which is the stuff you could have pitched anyway. All of the fiber from his belly, tail end, and neck were gone already, so we just got the good stuff. So, that leaves us with 19 sheep left to shear.

I bought another roll of woven wire fencing today, and once Mike gets that up, the farmhouse and chicken house will be completely fenced in. If we don't stop losing poultry to coyotes after that, then we are just out of luck.

But for the next three weeks, half of my days will be spent teaching, and another good chunk of time will be spent grading and preparing. In fact, a lot of today will be spent getting ready to start teaching. I've never taught a summer class before, but I've taken a couple, and the pace can be crazy. Add farm chores to that -- and, oh yeah, a big family party here on Father's Day -- and I'm kind of wondering how I'll mentally survive the next three weeks. I suppose I will have a much better idea of what it's like to combine a full-time job with homesteading.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Urban homestead revisited

Last week, Katherine and I revisited the urban homestead in St. Louis. You might remember that last month, Mike and I delivered a couple of goats to Justin and Danielle and were quite impressed with what they had done with their little city lot.

Now that a month has passed, it is even more impressive. All those little sprouts in last month's pictures have turned into real plants. They've sold a variety of lettuces to local restaurants, eaten a couple of chickens, and tasted some honey from their bee hives. They let us try the tiny flower from a toothache plant, which was absolutely heavenly. The best way I can describe it is to say that they're like a natural version of pop rocks. My entire mouth was tingling for five or ten minutes. I wanted to ask for more. If I grow them here, I'll probably be munching on the flowers the whole time I'm working in the garden.

Last month, people had a few questions about the urban homestead, which I can better answer now that I've been there again. I also took a picture that better shows the goat's shelter, which is the small gray building at the back of yard. But what about odor and the neighbors? First, it does not stink. I didn't think it would, because the goats and chickens are able to run around in the fresh air and sunshine. Confined animal feeding operations stink, no doubt about that, and that's why farm animals have a reputation for stinking. When we first moved out here, I heard from at least one person for every species of livestock, "Don't get _____ because they stink!" That's because so many people have seen animals in unnatural surroundings. The only ones I've found that really do stink are male goats and pigs, mostly when they're confined to small spaces, like a barn. Given enough room outside, they aren't usually objectionable.

Second, not only did one of their neighbors give them his blessing, he also gave them most of his backyard, so they'd have more room for squash plants and the chickens and goats. He also told them they could use his old backyard storage shed as their new chicken house.

Finally, someone asked about property values. Society's definition of valuable is changing. While "pretty" might have been valuable five years ago, practical is the new pretty. Having high maintenance landscaping that requires hours of work every weekend -- simply to keep a pretty yard -- is not the slam-dunk investment that it once was. While some people might not like the idea of having a neighbor with chickens, goats, and a big garden, other people would love it. And the number of people who love it is going to grow in the coming months and years. Unlike most businesses, vegetable seed companies are thriving in this economy. They report a 25-30% increase in sales this year. I'll also add that my goats are selling as fast as they're born, and almost all of them are going to people who are just getting started with their own herd of milkers. I've only had the cows for a month, but I've already received two phone calls from people who want to buy cows.

Urban homesteading is not entirely new, but it is becoming more popular. The Quince family in Minneapolis has had an urban homestead with a garden and chickens for a couple of years already, and they're not the only family in the Twin Cities that has chickens. In a recent blog post, they mentioned the upcoming Parade of Coops. Yes, it's like a Parade of Homes, but in this case, people are opening up their backyards so people can see how city chickens live.

Perhaps the most popular urban homesteaders are the Dervaes in Pasadena, California, who have been at it for more than a decade. In their blog, they talk about their chickens, ducks, goats, and garden, which produces 6,000 pounds of produce every year. Not only do they grow enough fruits and vegetables to feed their own family, they also sell to local restaurants. They are located next door to an elementary school, which sometimes brings children over for field trips.

If you want to learn more about this, just google "urban homesteading," and you'll have a lot to read.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Front fencing completed!

For several years, we've been talking about the need for a fence across the front of our property, and we finally did it. I should say that Mike finally did it, since my help consisted of recommending a picket fence. I thought that it would work well for keeping the birds on our property, since chickens don't exactly fly over a fence. They usually jump up on top, then jump down. With pointy tips, I thought a picket fence would be the least accessible for them.

With the addition of this fencing, it means the entire front of our property is fenced off from the road by either woven wire or a picket fence, making it much harder for any of our animals to get into the road and meet with the same sad fate as Willie on Monday. The gate is hard to see in this picture, but it's covered with a mesh that will make it impossible for animals to go through it. Right now it is kept closed with a small bungy cord, but we will be getting an electric opener for it, which will be similar to a garage door opener, so we won't have to get out to open the gate when it's raining.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Kitten rescue

Margaret and I were driving down Rt. 23 this afternoon, and two kittens were frolicking on the shoulder, which is completely unacceptable on a road where most people drive 60-65 mph. As we went past the kittens, I shrieked, "It's kittens!" Margaret slammed on the brakes and started to back up. The kittens were getting closer to the middle of the road, and two more cars were rapidly approaching. When the kittens saw us running towards them, they ran into the tall grass in the ditch.

We walked around calling, "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty." But they were understandably freaked out and hiding. Margaret found one quickly and picked it up, but the other was doing a better job of concealing himself. Margaret meowed, and just as I was about to make a joke about her method, I heard a kitten's meow. "Holy cow! I can't believe that worked. She's talking back at you. Do it again." So, Margaret meowed again, and I moved closer to the sound. Margaret meowed again, the kitten answered, and I got a little closer. After repeating this script a few times, I finally spotted the kitten and was able to catch it.

My little kitten hissed at me and laid his ears back, trying to look vicious, but he just made me smile. I put him in my lap for the drive home, and he stuck his head under my arm, trying to hide. Once home, we put them in the barn office and gave them some cat food. One ran under the futon and refused to come back out, but the little gray and white one stuck his nose into the food and rooted around like a pig. It seemed obvious that he had no idea what to do with dry food, so I sent Margaret into the house for some canned food. Although they did do a little better with the canned food, it is clear they have not eaten much solid food. Taking another step back, we gave them some goat milk.

They were on the road at least half a mile from the nearest farm house, and these kittens are only about four or five weeks old, so I'm assuming they were dumped. I can't imagine these tiny babies leaving their mama and a good home. They're really not big enough to be weaned. One fits in my hand and weighs about a pound, although they are admittedly thin and bony. Still, I've eaten baked potatoes bigger than these babies. The little one in the photo is all fur. I'm happy to report that he quickly decided that he could trust me, and I spent quite a bit of time carrying the kitten and walking around looking at Mike's new picket fence, but that's a post for tomorrow. The other kitten is hiding in the barn office, but she'll come out in due time once she realizes she's safe.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Confusion and a lost yearling

I'm so confused and frustrated. We've been fighting the coyote battle for two years. It was two summers ago when we started losing lambs. Since we had never lost an animal, other than poultry, we thought that first little lamb had been washed away in a flood. When we lost the second one, we started to think coyote. After the third, we knew it was coyotes. We tried changing some things with fencing and the guard dog, but after losing six lambs, we decided to start staying in the pasture all night. For a week, my oldest daughter and I took turns staying out there with a gun. But when the coyotes never came near, my youngest daughter started sleeping out there in a tent. Until the middle of October, she slept in the pasture with the sheep. By the time the cold weather forced her inside, the coyotes had moved on.

Last year, after we lost a 4-year-old ewe, we realized we were dealing with a bigger pack of coyotes than any dog could be expected to handle, so we got llamas. Although one ram was attacked a week after the llamas' arrival, he survived. We also moved the sheep from a pasture with electric wire to a pasture with woven wire. We didn't think that little lambs would be sticking their heads through the fence to eat -- but why not? Goats stick their heads through the fence all the time.

And that is confusing. We've only lost one goat to coyotes, but we've lost 11 sheep to coyotes over the past two years. And it's not like my goats are in a safer situation than the sheep. Until late last year, the goats were in a pasture next to the sheep with electric fencing. The goats are notorious for going through the electric and heading down to the creek to graze, which would make them an easy target for a hungry coyote. Do the goats have a guardian angel, or do coyotes prefer lamb to chevon, or is it just plain dumb luck?

My happy excitement over finding White Feather's ram was short-lived when only a couple hours later, Margaret was again only counting nine lambs. We haven't been able to find Naira's black and white spotted ram. And now we can't find one of the yearling wethers. For the past couple days, it has felt like school for sheep as we do morning and evening attendance, rather than simply counting the lambs. But then you ask, what's the point? If they're gone, they're gone. There is nothing we can do about it. We have the ewes and lambs locked up in the pasture with woven wire now -- along with two big llamas. And I know coyotes will attack during the daytime. The farmer four miles away has seen them attack his lambs in the middle of the day. We've seen them grab chickens and geese in the middle of the day.

Most types of traps and poisons are out of the question, because I'm afraid of my own dogs or cats being killed. Mike made a live trap last year, but in the morning, the meat was gone, the trap door was closed, and there was no coyote. Somehow they managed to free themselves after being caught. A couple of people have told me they know men who hunt coyotes. "Give him my phone number, and tell him to call me," I said. I'm desperate.

It was bad enough before we got the llamas. Lambs would just disappear. But the coyotes are not giving up. Now, I have to deal with injured animals. It feels like your insides have been ripped out when you see the result of a coyote attack. After the initial shock, there are days of worry, second-guessing, and guilt. Of the three attacks that the llamas stopped, two of the animals had to be put down anyway. I try to console myself by saying that at least the coyotes didn't get their dinner, but I'm starting to believe that doesn't make much difference to the coyotes. They know where the buffet is, and they keep coming back.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The little ewe without a name

For more than two hours, I dabbed at the dried blood in the little ewe’s wool, trying to get it clean, so that I could see the extent of her injuries. Finally, I was able to use my clippers to shave the wool from the top of her head. It wasn’t pretty. There was a long gash across her skull with a deep puncture at one end.

One thing I didn’t mention in my last post because I didn’t understand it – the wool on top of her head was covered with fly eggs. One of the first things Jonathan said when he brought her inside was that it looked like she had maggots on top of her head, but they weren’t moving. Well, maybe it’s just dried puss, I suggested. When we started trying to get the dried blood out of her wool, we noticed that the little beige flecks were not breaking up, so I told Jonathan to look at one under the microscope. They looked like little ovals, definitely not any kind of living creature. But when I was finally able to cut through the wool, I saw wiggling. The maggots were tiny, which means they had hatched recently. That meant that the little ewe had been attacked 24 hours earlier. It’s all starting to make more sense. She was probably attacked the previous night. She must have stuck her head through the woven wire to eat the grass on the other side when a coyote grabbed her head. Her black wool definitely worked against her. By morning the blood had dried and blended in with her black wool, and no one noticed it.

Jonathan helped me start to pick the maggots out of the cut. Half an hour before midnight, Mike and the girls arrived home from Joliet. Mike is teaching a summer class; Margaret is taking one; and Katherine was at a friend’s house. When they saw her, they made faces that told me the little ewe did not look good. I’d been working so hard to save her all night and felt so positive about what seemed to be an improvement. She could stand now, although she would melt in your arms if you held her. She had little muscle tone, but it was more than she had when Jonathan brought her into the house several hours earlier.

Once the girls registered their serious concerns about the little ewe’s chances, Jonathan said, “Mom, I know you want to try as hard as possible to save these animals, but,” he stopped and looked down at her. “There’s a hole in her skull. Her brain is exposed.” Over the next hour, everyone argued intermittently that the little ewe should be put down. But I just couldn’t do it. Yes, maybe she did have a brain injury, but who knows what happens when anyone has a brain injury. She had been running around earlier that day with her mother – several of us had seen her. My husband mentioned that Natasha Richards stood up and said she was fine, and then went into a coma two days after her head injury. But, I argued that there are people who have brain injuries and fully recover.

In some ways it was easier to decide to put Willie down. It made sense when the vet told me that he should have a good leg to put his weight on while a broken one healed. It made sense that his legs were essentially dead, because I mashed all over them from top to bottom, and he never flinched or even seemed to notice I was touching them. When I did the same thing to his back legs, he jerked and kicked and obviously objected to my messing with them.

I gave the little ewe another 35 cc of fluids sub-q and told Mike I thought she’d be happier with her mama in the barn. He and Margaret went out into the rain and found White Feather. When they were walking her past the front of the house, she bleated. The little ewe tried to lurch forward in my lap. She obviously heard her mama and wanted her. We left them together in the barn overnight, and I prayed that somehow the decision would be made for me by morning. Either she would be obviously improved and nursing, or she would be dead.

I asked Mike to check on her when we woke up this morning. He came back 15 minutes later and said that she was alive but not “there.” She was just standing with her head hanging down. She didn’t respond to anything. Finally I gathered up the courage to go the barn. I grabbed a handful of alfalfa pellets for White Feather, who gobbled them out of my hand, and I sat down in the middle of the straw. I picked up the little lamb and put her in my lap. She was completely limp. After a few minutes, she started making a gurgling noise and wheezing. She gasped and jerked her head and dropped it. I thought she was dead. I couldn’t feel a pulse, so I put my fingers in front of her nose. I couldn’t feel anything until my fingers were almost touching her nostril. I flicked my fingers at her eyes, and she didn’t blink. She didn’t respond at all. I laid her back down on the straw and started to cry. The little ewe tried to hoist herself up again like a drunken sailor. How could I make the decision to end her life when she seemed to be fighting so hard?

Then I heard my mother’s voice as clearly as if she were standing next to me. “The poor little thing is suffering, Debby.” My mother died in 1993, and I hardly think about her much anymore, but I kept hearing her say, “The poor little thing is suffering, Debby.” I buried my head in my arms and cried harder. I tried to remember a time in my childhood when she had said those words to me. They seemed so clear. But I couldn’t remember ever having something like this happen. We didn’t live on a farm. I kept telling myself it was just a memory, but her presence felt so immediate. With my tear-blurred eyes buried in the arms of my sweatshirt, I saw no memory from my childhood. All I could see was her kneeling in the straw next to me with her arm around me, repeating, “The poor little thing is suffering.” I looked up and saw White Feather standing in front of me, nose to nose. I reached up to scratch under her chin, and she wrapped her head around my neck as if to hug me. She pressed her body up against me and didn’t move. She knew her baby was gone. I think she’d known for a while. But with my human brain and “reason” I just kept thinking that I could save her.

But save her from what? I realized that even if I could save her from death, she might be blind or neurologically damaged. She might never have a normal life and would merely be easy prey for another coyote. Or she might still die in spite of everyone’s best efforts. What could be gained by trying to prolong her life? I picked up the bag of IV fluids that I had planned to administer, and I stood up. I dried my eyes on the sleeve of my sweatshirt and left the barn. When I walked into the house, Katherine asked, “How’s she doing?”

“She needs to be put down.”

Monday, June 1, 2009

The worst of days

Where to start? Willie is dead, one lamb is missing, and another lamb is badly injured. It seemed like the worst of days when Willie ran out in the road and was hit by a car. He broke both his front legs and sustained nerve damage. After three vets said his prognosis was poor, we decided it would be inhumane to make him suffer any longer, so we decided to put him down.

I tried to make myself feel better about the decision. There are a lot of shepherds out there who need to sell lambs, and I'll be able to buy one now. But it's just so hard to feel like you made the right decision when you end an animal's life. The vets all emphasized that healing from one broken leg would have been possible, but he would really needed one good leg to support himself while it healed. When they learned that he had no feeling in the broken legs, that pretty much ended the discussion for me. I don't know why I didn't realize it sooner. He never made a sound -- not one sound. Here was this ram unable to support his front half, and he never made a single noise. He would use his hind legs to propel his body forward on his chest, sometimes putting weight on his right knee briefly, as if that were normal.

I had run out of the house in mid-yogurt-making to deal with Willie, so after a couple hours of getting all of that sorted out, I discovered my milk on the stove and decided to finish making it. I had it all mixed up and in the yogurt maker when Jonathan came inside with a lamb in his arms, her head hanging down. "What?" It took a moment to click. "Oh, no, not again! Not two in one day! Please, no!"

We put the little black ewe on a towel in the bathtub. She was unable to suck, so I gave her 25 cc sub-q fluids. I can't believe I just received my order from Hoegger two days ago, and it included a bag of lactated ringers. I also gave her a shot of antibiotics. Her head looks dreadful. There is a lot of dried blood in her wool, so I can't see the injuries at all. I've been trying to clean it with peroxide and cotton balls, but it's slow going because I don't want to get peroxide in her eyes. My clippers can't get through the wool at all. About half an hour after I gave her the fluids, she stood up. Now, she has stood up several times, which is a vast improvement, since she was completely floppy when she was first brought into the house. I am remaining guarded but optimistic.

Once Mike gets home, I'm hoping to get her mother and put them in the barn together. I think it would be really good for her to be with her mother. At the moment, she is laying in my lap, because if I leave her in the bathtub, she stands up and starts walking in circles, banging into the sides of the tub and falling down. I guess I should be happy that she has some energy now, but she is a long way from being out of the woods.

And I just realized that I forgot to mention that her brother is missing. It would be great if someone could wake me up and tell me it was all just a bad dream.

Winner of Give-Away Day

Sorry today's post is a little later than usual. I went to bed last night before the midnight deadline for the contest. This morning, I've had the challenging and fun job of trying to figure out who wins the three bars of goat milk soap!

First, I have to tell you I was overwhelmed by the response! I seriously thought about 20 people would want the soap. In the end, 346 people commented. There were a lot of clever and witty comments. Several people wrote poems. And a lot of people told me about their allergies, dry skin, eczema, and psoriasis. Those of you who visited my soap shop online know that I started making goat milk soap because of my own allergies, so I seriously sympathize with you. I wish I could give you all some of the soap to try, but that would cost me hundreds of dollars in postage, so unfortunately I can't do it.

But I can do this: If you want to try my soap, I'll offer these specials. If you just want a sample of the plain unscented soap, send me $1 via Paypal, and I'll send you a small sample, so you can see how it works for you. If you'd like to try more, I'll pay for shipping two or three bars of soap, if you let me choose the fragrances. If you need unscented, let me know, and I won't include any fragrances. Two bars are $10, and three bars are $15. Don't order through my website, since it will automatically add shipping to your order. Just send $1 for a sample, $10 for two bars, or $15 for three bars, to deborah (at) antiquityoaks (dot) com via Paypal, put "soap order" in the subject line, and I'll get your soap in the mail within the next couple days.

Now, for the moment everyone has been waiting for ... As all the comments rolled in, I was seriously getting worried about how I would ever choose a winner. Then I read this one from Raheli:

My husband and I are building a house and we're trying to put in separate plumbing for gray-water so we can collect it and use it for watering the orchard or garden. Now we need to rethink all the soaps that we are using and make sure that they are biodegradable. So I would definitely love to try your goat milk soap... and cheer you on if you developed a goat milk dishwasher soap!

I wanted -- I still want! -- a graywater system in our house. When we were building our house five years ago, I called the county health department and told them that we wanted a graywater system, and they had no idea what I was talking about. I tried to explain it to them, and they just kept telling me that it had to go through a septic tank. Well, when you're in the midst of physically building your own house, you only have so much energy, and I didn't have the energy to continue trying to educate and persuade the sanitation engineer. So, sadly we have a septic tank. I'm excited that Raheli wants to put in a graywater system and would love to support her in that effort, so I'll be shipping her the three free bars of soap.

Thanks to everyone who visited and commented. I'm excited that I've found some new blogpals -- or rather, you've found me!


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