Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let the breeding begin!

Jonathan came into the house yesterday morning and told me that Coco was in heat, and that "a blue and white doe" was also standing next to the buck pen quietly. (That would be Anne Bronte.) It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't decided which does and bucks to breed to each other. In the past, Margaret and I would have been talking about that since the middle of summer, but she's at the University of Illinois now, so I'm pretty much on my own with the animal decisions. And the only thing I've been thinking is that I was not going to breed anyone for kidding before a March due date, because last year's below-zero, January kidding was stressful enough to last me a lifetime. So, who would make a good date for Coco and Anne?

Coco is Katherine's favorite milk goat because she has really big orifices, which means the milk really comes out fast, and Anne is my favorite because she has the longest tests in the herd, meaning it's just easy to get your hands around the teats for milking. Seeing how they're both easy milkers anyway -- and that I've been impressed with the dairy character of Pegasus's daughters, I decided to get him. Needless to say, he was quite happy with that decision.

When I first got him out of the buck pen, he immediately bred Anne, and then he had to brag to the other boys. He ran back to the buck pen and tried to butt heads with the boys through the fence. Of course, they were quite insulted and stuck out their tongues, lifted their upper lips, and made their "blub, blub, blub" noises. Then he bred Coco and bragged some more, while I took Anne by the collar and tried to convince her that he really would follow if she went to a pen farther away from the other bucks. She gave a whole new meaning to the phrase standing heat, as her feet were glued to the ground. She seemed to be saying, "I'm not leaving him with her!" Luckily, Pegasus decided to give Anne some more attention, because as long as he was next to her whispering sweet nothings in her ear, she was willing to take some little steps with me, and we eventually made it to our destination. The other bucks were left in their pen running back and forth by the fence, screaming, "Hey, what about me?"

And I almost forgot to mention that through all of this Bridget the cow was standing next to the fence mooing. She is obviously in heat again, as she is driving poor Molly crazy, trying to mount her all day long. I explained to Bridget that she wasn't old enough to have a bullfriend, but she was clearly ignoring me.

Now I have to sign off because I need to look over pedigrees and pictures and milk records and figure out who will be bred to whom this fall. And then we just have to wait for five long months.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Can I panic NOW?

A month ago, I realized it was crunch time, perfectly defined as when you realize you will have to work like a dog to finish your work by the deadline. The difference between our world and the modern world is that in the modern world, people give you an extension if you don't meet your deadline -- or you get fired, and it's not your deadline any longer. But in the world of Antiquity Oaks, there is no one who can grant an extension. We snooze, we lose. It's just that simple. Winter waits for no one.

Number one on the list of things that had to be done this year was "put drain tiles in the yard around the house." Without drain tiles, we will be ankle deep in water next spring when the snow starts to melt and the spring rains begin. The dogs will have muddy paws and wet legs and bellies for three months. We'll have to wash the front-door rug every day. And most fun of all -- we'll have to balance on concrete blocks as we walk across the mote in front of our house. Yes, we have a mote on Antiquity Oaks. Although I did have daydreams about being a princess when I was a child, now that I have a mote in front of my castle, I don't really like it at all.

Although Mike bought four rolls of woven wire and two rolls of welded wire, he's only finished the fence on a new chicken yard. This past weekend, he and Jonathan worked on digging holes for fence posts, so we should have some new goat pens operational next weekend. At this point, I'm not very optimistic about finishing the far west pastures this fall, but it won't be a problem until the next flood.

The kidding pens in the smaller barn have not even been started, although that is an inside job and can be done over the winter. And I won't bore you with a list of everything else from last month's post that has not been done. But if you read my blog regularly, you know that we've been keeping ourselves busy.

This morning I gave all the milkers a BoSe (selenium) injection in preparation for breeding season. I still need to give it to the dry does. We injected the bucks last week and gave them copper boluses. Mike finished the desk in the library, and we spent half a day making soap a week ago.

One thing that was not on that list last month was the new garage. We were going to build a garage in May, but that project didn't get any farther than estimates for the concrete. This means we will once again have the fascinating experience of trying to figure out how to enter a car when the doors are frozen shut.

But when I started this journey seven years ago, I read a book that said you can always tell the real farmers from the hobby farmers because the real farmers take care of their animals first. Hobby farmers build nice houses, garages and white fences across the front. Real farmers are always making their barns better and improving the livestock fencing. We are so busy taking care of the day-to-day things with the animals that the drain tiles (for our comfort) and the garage (for our comfort) didn't even get started this year. As for the kidding pens, well, the goats don't mind kidding in the big barn. It's just us wimpy humans who want to sit in a nice warm office and watch them through a window until we're really needed. And the other stuff that didn't get done from last month's list is also for us humans. Does this mean we're real farmers now?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Acorn harvest

Last weekend, our driveway was suddenly covered with acorns. This happens every fall, but this year, we're not viewing them as a pain-in-the-foot nuisance, because we've learned that pigs love acorns and other nuts. That's what pigs eat in the wild, and mast-finished pork is a gourmet's delight. So, we began our first-ever acorn harvest. The oak tree next to the driveway is a burr oak, and this is what the acorns look like. If you're as uninformed about oaks and acorns as I was a couple months ago, you didn't even know that different oak trees had different types of acorns.

We were wondering if the pigs would mind the big, fuzzy caps on the burr acorns, but apparently it's not a problem. They grab them, crack them, spit out the shell and eat the nut inside. We also did a little taste test to see whether the pigs preferred corn or acorns, and acorns won in a landslide. The pigs were out of food, and we put a pan of corn in their pen. They sniffed it and looked up at us as if to say, "Is this the best you can do?" Then we dumped a bucket of acorns on the ground, and they were on them like flies on a picnic table. We've learned that it works best if we dump the acorns on the ground, because if we put them in a feed pan, the pigs drop the shells back in the feed pan, which we have to empty later. It also makes it harder for the pigs to find the uneaten acorns.

After seeing what the nut looks like, I decided to try one, and they are delicious. They remind me of macadamias, both in taste and appearance. I should point out here that not all acorns are delicious right out of the shell. There are sweet varieties and bitter varieties, and the burr oak is one of the sweet ones. For information on making bitter acorns edible, check out this site. I'm planning to make acorn and white chocolate chip cookies soon.

We also have plenty of other oak trees on our property, including white oaks, which also have sweet acorns. There are red oaks too, which have bitter acorns. We have given a few to the pigs, and they don't seem to mind. Now we just have to figure out the easiest way to get the acorns to the pigs. So far, we're filling up old feed bags, but I'd like to be able to take the pigs to the acorns and let them handle the harvesting themselves.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Happy day turned confusing and frustrating

I really should stop saying that I'm going to write about something "tomorrow," because that seems to be a siren to the universe to hit me with something big, which is sometimes good and sometimes not so good. Yes, this means the acorns will have to wait another day.

This summer we decided to have some of our Shetland and llama fiber professionally spun, so we could expand our yarn offerings. Poor Katherine does a great job, but I've got her busy spinning up Teddy and Latte for me, so I can finish my afghan-turned-bedspread. Anyway, the yarn finally arrived, which is a good thing, right? Not so fast . . .

It was like Christmas morning, opening the box and then the bags inside the box, seeing all of my beautiful yarn, feeling its silky softness . . . and then it was like finding a piece of coal in my stocking. In one of the bags, I found a business card for another farm. Hmmm . . . what's that doing in there? Then I realized I couldn't find Dolce's fiber. He's a brown llama, and there was no brown in the box. So, I figured Dolce's fiber was accidentally sent to the farm whose business card was in the box, and perhaps I had some of her fiber. We could switch, and all would be well with the world again. Not so fast . . .

I called her and quickly learned that she had not received any yarn, and she had been waiting even longer than me. After two phone calls with her, a phone call to the carding mill, a phone call to the spinning mill, and receiving an email from the carding mill, I pulled out my scale and started weighing all the skeins of yarn. This is what I learned . . . If details bore you, feel free to skip to the end.

Tuscany (llama) and Fairy (Shetland), dropped-off 5.2#
Kitty, (Shetland) dropped-off 2.2#
The skeins from these two are mixed together and combined weight of yarn is 6.5# (almost a pound less); Kitty's yarn is not identified, but if we assume that her fiber is missing, then it's 1.3# more than the Tuscany/Fairy blend, so Kitty's skeins of yarn are probably somewhere in this basket of white yarn.

Sterling (llama) and Rambrandt (ram) dropped-off 4#
received 5.75# of yarn (almost two pounds more) The dark, sweatshirt gray yarn (pictured at top) weighs 3#, which is 1# less than the drop-off weight of the two boys. There are three skeins of slightly lighter gray that have flecks of brown in them, which weigh 1.7#. There are two skeins of light gray/white/brown (on the right side of the top photo) that weigh 1.1#. There was a piece of paper with a card in this bag that says the incoming weight of someone else's llama was 1# 7 ounces (almost 1.5#). I'm thinking all of this was spun together, because there is only one end skein (a short one), and it is the sweatshirt gray. If we subtract 2.8# from the 5.75#, we are just about at the 4# that we dropped off.

Merlin (llama) and Albus (ram), dropped-off 4#
received 2.6# (1.4# less)

Hawkeye (Shetland), dropped off 1.5#
received 1.4# (almost perfect)

Dolce (llama), dropped off 2.6#
received 2# (half a pound less)

Confused? I was. Bottom line is that quite a bit of my fiber is missing, and apparently I have someone else's fiber. Also, I have no idea which white yarn is pure Shetland and which is a Shetland/llama blend. I guess it's good news that my Shetland is that soft, but it's not easy to sell if I can't tell someone what kind of fiber they're buying. The best news is that I figured out I have Dolce's fiber. It's such a dark brown that it looks black if it's not in the sun. I emailed all these details to the carding mill yesterday and am hoping they can figure out whose fiber went where.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A bit of upsetting news

I was planning to write about the acorn harvest today, but that will just have to wait. After writing Tuesday's post, I checked some of the blogs I read, and I decided to check the blog for a family that bought a doe and a wether from us this spring. They were creating a sustainable homestead and were adding goats to create a home dairy. They already had chickens, rabbits, bees, and a garden.

Well, buried in a blog post it said that they no longer have goats, but they have goat meat in their freezer. There was no explanation. My brain did not even make the connection at first. I wondered where our goats had gone -- and where did they get goat meat? Then it clicked, and my stomach was turning inside out. They butchered the goats we sold them this spring? They butchered a $300, 25-pound, registered doeling out of my best milking line? Even the meat from the wether would be over-priced at $75 for the little guy, but seriously, who in their right mind would butcher a $300 doeling that could easily be resold? She was not even six months old. A yearling Shetland wether (sheep) only has a hanging weight of 25 pounds, and they're much meatier than dairy goats. Hanging weight on a young doe would be 10-15 pounds -- and that's not all meat. Even now my brain keeps thinking there has to be a mistake.

I know I'm supposed to be the hearty farm woman, right? I spent all day -- yes, all day -- thinking about this Tuesday, trying to tell myself that's just life. As another goat breeder said, you can't keep them all, and you can't control what happens to them after they leave. I know. But this is such a colossal waste of a goat that had so much potential as a family milker. Four families have been waiting six months to get goats from me, including a woman who is only 30 minutes from the family that had that doe. She would have gladly bought the doe from them, had they only told me they couldn't keep their goats any longer. I've turned away half a dozen more families that wanted goats this year, and I already have three families on next year's waiting list for goats that have not been conceived yet.

As you know, I'm not against eating animals that have lived a happy life, so I asked myself what is so upsetting about this. Obviously, I'm more attached to my goats than I realized, but beyond that -- it's a huge waste. Being sustainable means living a lifestyle that can sustain you. Eating $20-30 per pound goat meat is not sustainable. Killing an animal that could have provided thousands of pounds of milk over her lifetime is a waste. I had never even considered the possibility that someone would just decide to eat one of my goats one day, because they're too expensive to just eat. They're too valuable to be used for food.

I used to subscribe to the Flylady emails, and she always talked about getting rid of your clutter and anything that you don't absolutely love. By giving it away, you're allowing someone else to love it. As they say, one person's trash is another's treasure. It was the same thing with the goats. Even though they had become a burden to their current family, there was another family nearby that would have loved to have the doeling. It's not like the family that was faced with an $1,200 vet bill to get a c-section for a goat and decided to put her down. These people had real options. If only they had called me, I could have put them in touch with someone who would have bought her and loved her and appreciated the milk that she would have given them next spring.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Getting ready for maple sugaring

Mike and I went into the woods on Saturday to identify trees. We wanted to see what kind of maple and oak trees we had, because acorns from the oaks can be used to feed pigs, and the maple trees can be used for making maple syrup for the humans. Acorn harvest has already begun, but I'll talk about that tomorrow.

As for the maple trees, we found more than a dozen large, old trees, and almost all of them are sugar maples. Although you can tap any kind of maple tree, the sugar maples have the highest yield of sap. You can tap a tree once it has grown to 10 inches in diameter, and you can add another tap for each additional six to eight inches in diameter. If the books are correct, this means we could easily have a couple dozen taps, because the trees are big enough to support two or three taps each. I had to post a picture of Mike next to a tree, because the trees look really small if there isn't a person in the picture. Even this tree looks small if you cover up Mike, but we can't get our arms around it.

This also means that my cabin in the woods may be moved closer to the top of the to-do list. I've been wanting a cabin in the woods, but it always seemed like one of those "nice to have" things, rather than anything practical. However, it takes 35 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, and how far do you want to carry all that sap before starting to boil it down? However, this also means that we probably won't be taking advantage of all our maple trees next spring, because there are two separate groves on opposite ends of our property.

Our next step is to somehow mark the trees so that at the end of February or in early March when there are no leaves on the trees, we'll know which ones are maples. I am really excited about making our own syrup, because having a homegrown sweetener will get us one step closer to true sustainability.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bye, bye babies

It's that time -- time for the summer babies to start going to their new homes. Yesterday a couple picked up four goats to start their own herd of Nigerian milkers. They got two does, a buck and a wether. Scarlet was one of the does. She had the premature kids at the end of July. Seeing how brutally the other goats treated her, I decided she would be happier in a home where she would be top goat.

People often ask if it's hard to sell kids. Yes, it is, but it's harder to sell older goats. Once they grow up here, I start thinking of them as one of the family. That's why I sold all the doelings this year except one. Since Margaret has gone off to college and will be followed in a couple years by her siblings, I need to start downsizing. I know I can't have a huge herd reduction sale in two or three years, because I can't even part with anyone over two years old now. So, the only way for me to reduce my herd is to simply not keep kids.

I'm keeping Bonnie Parker, daughter of Lizzie Borden. Bonnie's kids will be named after depression-era people and things. A lot of people laugh when I tell them this, considering the economic state of our country, but that had nothing to do with the naming. All of Lizzie's kids are named after gangsters. And Lizzie got her name because she's out of Carmen, and all her kids are named after operas -- yes, there is an opera about Lizzie Borden. This crazy naming scheme helps me to keep track of who is related to whom. Otherwise, I'd be pulling out pedigrees almost every day. But I digress . . .

The summer kids are starting to turn two months old now, so the number of goats in the barnyard will start thinning out. All the kids born this summer will be going to only four homes, all of which are starting herds, and I've already started to receive deposits for next spring. Three families have already contacted me about starting herds. It's amazing how interested people are in having their own home dairy supply now. I've also heard that the hatcheries have been barely able to keep up with demand for chicks this year. As you can imagine, I am pretty excited about people wanting to eat healthier and be more self-sufficient.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Garlic planting time!

You might be thinking that it's time to rip up the plants in the garden and start thinking about next year. Well, I wouldn't exactly agree with that. Now is the perfect time to plant garlic. We're big garlic lovers here. My philosophy of cooking is that there is no such thing as too much butter, chocolate, or garlic! They are my three favorite flavors.

Somehow I fell off the email list of the two places where I've purchased garlic in the past, but as a member of Seed Savers, I received their email reminding me that garlic planting time was fast approaching. Unfortunately, almost all of their garlic had already been reserved. I was able to get five bulbs each of the German extra hardy, which is a hardneck that usually has only three or four cloves. I do hope it's not as blah as elephant garlic. I love a good hot-spicy garlic. I was also able to order the broadleaf Czech garlic, which looks a lot like the garlic you buy in the store, but it is much larger and has a rosier color to the skin.

Now that my garlic has arrived, I just need to think about where to plant it. I've been a fan of companion planting in the past. Roses supposedly like garlic, so I've planted it next to rose bushes, which always die, but I don't blame the garlic. (I blame our clay soil.) Planting garlic under peach trees is supposed to detract borers, so I've planted it there in the past also. We have some two-year-old peach trees that don't have garlic under them, so I'll probably put a few bulbs there. Perhaps a few cloves in the herb garden? But where else? It definitely needs to be somewhere that won't be forgotten. You see, this is also garlic harvesting time, and I'm not exactly sure where the garlic is hiding out there right now. . . .

This post is part of Fight Back Friday. Check out more posts on real food at Food Renegade!

Monday, September 14, 2009

53 new babies!

The Post Office called Friday to let us know that our chicks had arrived from the hatchery in Iowa. As I mentioned earlier this month, our layers are getting a little old and are not laying enough to be cost effective. They're averaging about one egg a week. That's not much of a surprise though, since almost all of them are three to five years old. Hens are the most productive in their first two years.

In the past, I've been mesmerized by the hatchery catalog pictures of colorful chickens and had a terrible time choosing breeds. When we first moved out here seven years ago, we got 25 hens, half Silver-laced Wyandotte and half Buff Orpington. After that, I let my daughters choose since they were in 4-H. For four years, we'd order 100 straight-run chicks (usually 50/50 boys/girls). Margaret and Katherine each chose two breeds, meaning we had 25 of four different breeds every year. This would provide our chicken meat for the year, since we'd butcher the roosters when they were three to four months old, and we'd have about 40 new layers every year. The girls kept track of what breeds arrived in what year, and once the hens were two to three years old, we'd butcher them for stew meat.

All 50 of these chicks are New Hampshire Red pullets (females), which are supposed to be an excellent dual-purpose bird. The hens are good layers, and the males reach a good weight for butchering. In December, when our current hens stop laying, we'll be taking them to Arthur, where they'll be magically turned into chicken while we're out shopping in Amishland. Then these girls will be moved to the hen house.

Someone asked why I was ordering chicks now, since most people order them in spring. When the girls were showing in 4-H, the chicks had to be ordered in February, so they would be mature by the fair in July. Shipping day-old chicks to Illinois in February means that a lot will arrive dead, because they're being shipped in such cold weather. In fact, one time the shipment had 100% mortality, which was really heart-breaking. And it simply does not mesh with my personal morals. I can't do something that would reasonably bring harm to an animal -- and shipping when it's so cold is just not safe for the chicks. We tried shipping later and later and finally concluded that it's risky to ship them when temperatures are below freezing. It's really not a good idea to ship any earlier than late April or May in Illinois, but if you do that, the hens will reach maturity around the time that their laying would slow down in fall, so they might not lay at all that first year. By getting the pullets in September, they'll mature right around the time that they would normally start laying in spring, so I won't be feeding them for an extra six to nine months with little payback in eggs.

So, who is this little dude with the funky thing on his head? I forgot that McMurray gives you a free rare-breed chick. This little guy is undoubtedly some kind of crested breed, possibly a Sultan or a Houdan. Although he will probably be a beautiful bird, I doubt he will last long here for two reasons -- one, if he's a Sultan, he'll be white, which is a blinking beacon for predators; and two, he's going to be legally blind with his funky feathers hanging over his eyes. I've seen these birds at the fair, and it really doesn't look like they can see anything. Living out here with coyotes, coons, and hawks can be risky if your vision is impaired.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Shetlands don't have wool

This will, no doubt, come as a huge surprise to those of you who have been raising Shetlands and spinning their, um, well, whatever they grow on their bodies. No, seriously, Katherine and I were at one of our little events yesterday where they pay us to sit and spin, knit, make soap, and attempt to educate city slickers about what we're doing. A woman felt one of my Shetland lambskins and said, "What is this?"

"A Shetland lambskin," I said.

"Really? Sheep?"

At this point, her all-knowing husband pops up, "Well, they're not real sheep like the white ones," and which point I interrupt.

"Oh, yes, they are sheep. Just as there are many breeds of dogs, there are many breeds of sheep that are all different sizes and colors."

He cuts me off with, "Yeah, but they don't have wool. They have hair."

Eeeeeeek!!! For the five years that my daughters and I have been doing this, I've been telling them that you have to be nice to people, regardless of how misinformed they are. After all, we're here to educate people. So, if they say, "Look, kids, she's weaving on a loom," or "She's making cotton," you just smile sweetly and say to the children, "Well, actually it's a spinning wheel, and I'm spinning yarn from wool." (Yes, we really have heard these more than once.)

And I have always done a good job practicing what I preached, never getting upset when people say the silliest things. I even continued smiling yesterday when at least three people saw my spotted lambskins and said, "Hey look, cows." It's pretty easy to keep smiling at a comment like that because I'm chuckling to myself as I correct them and say, "No, they're sheep." Because 99.9% of people believe me! They're fascinated to learn that sheep can grow wool in many different colors -- and that they can even have spots. They swoon over the silky softness of the Shetland wool and say, "Wow, this isn't scratchy at all!" And voila, they have a new appreciation for premium wool.

But when this man tried to say that Shetlands aren't real sheep and don't have wool even after I'd attempted to tell him and his wife about the breed, I was seriously annoyed and briefly insulted until I realized that he was just clueless. I tried again to tell them about the sheep, and he turned around and walked off in a huff. His wife stayed, however, and listened to my spiel. Later, of course, I thought of all sorts of clever comebacks, but it was too late. And he still might have walked off in a huff, thinking that I know absolutely nothing about these sheep that I've been raising for the past six years. Still, a part of me wishes I had asked him, "So, if it's not wool, what is my daughter spinning there?"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I won the battle (I think, maybe)

I hesitate to say that I outsmarted the chickens, not because you might laugh, but because I could still be proved wrong. If you've never owned chickens, you have no idea how challenging it can be to live in harmony with them. Their needs to scratch for dinner and dust themselves tend to be in direct conflict with my need to have nice flower gardens.

Chickens are drawn to freshly turned dirt like flies to carrion or ducks to water. They can't help themselves. When they see a newly planted flower bed, they're not thinking, "Oh, how beautiful!" They're thinking, "A new dust bath!" or "Buffet! Hey, kids, earthworms for dinner!" Then they scratch and twist and turn. The dirt goes flying and so do the spring bulbs that were planted five inches deep, as well as the new transplants.

Ever since putting up the new fence this summer, we've been wanting to create a nice flower garden to welcome visitors. We've been slowed down by the knowledge that the chickens would scratch it up, as they have scratched up all the other things we've planted that are within their reach. So, what to do? The answer seems so obvious now. It finally occurred to me that the common denominator in their scratching escapades is dirt. If they don't see the dirt, they won't scratch. Duh! So, we hid the dirt underneath rocks.

So far, it seems to be working. The chickens walk right past the new flower beds. I probably should have waited at least a couple weeks (instead of six days) to post this, but I'm so proud of the lovely little gardens that I wanted to share. There is one on each side of the gate, and the only thing I don't like is that I can't see them very well from the house. But they are lovely, and I smile every time I pull into our driveway. We'll have daffodils and tulips to greet us in the spring, and I'm hoping that between the mums, asters, coreopsis, and sedum, something will come back next summer.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Creamy heirloom tomato soup

After Jon gave me the Kreativ Blogger Award and complimented my recipes, I realized I hadn't posted any lately. Sorry for the oversight! Here is a recipe that we created last winter when we realized we had a lot of tomatoes in the freezer. It is especially delicious with orange tomatoes -- reminded me of smoked gouda. Unfortunately, none of our orange tomatoes made it this year, so we've been using the "white giant" variety for this soup, and it's also been quite good.

  • 2 pounds of tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 t. garlic salt
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 1 t. cayenne or a chopped up red jalapeno from the garden (if you like it hot!)
  • 2 t. oregano
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 12 ounces goat milk (a cup and a half of whole milk from the store will do)
Toss tomatoes and spices into a pot to simmer. Meanwhile, melt butter in a saucepan and whisk in flour. After it bubbles, add it to the simmering tomatoes, increase heat to medium, and stir until it starts to bubble and thicken. Add milk. Use a stick blender to make creamy. This will serve four to six if it's meant to be part of a multi-course meal. Serves two with crusty French bread for a nice luncheon. Of course, it is extremely easy to double or triple. This only takes about 20 minutes to make!

Me and Ricky Gervais

That's probably the last headline you ever expected to see on my blog. Seriously, I'd have laughed if you told me that I would ever be writing about Gervais here. But as it turns out, the star of Ghost Town and I have a lot in common -- at least when it comes to food.

When my October issue of Bon Apetit arrived in the mail Saturday, I immediately started flipping through it, especially since it promised apple recipes. The Granny Smith tree is full of apples, but that will have to wait. I was talking about Gervais. So, what do we have in common?

Cheese, for starters! Gervais told Bon Apetit that he is "Never without a nice, mature cheddar" in his refrigerator. I'd love to ask him to define "mature." I prefer one that's aged at least two years, but I can settle for one that's been aged a year. I once had a nine-year-old cheddar that I would eat daily if I could afford it; and cheddar is simply not going to sit in my cheese cave for nine years.

Gervais also said he keeps a good amount of Pinot Grigio on hand. I, too, am a semi-sweet wine lover, although Pinot Grigio is my second or third favorite variety. My favorite is Fetzer's Gew├╝rztraminer (even if I can't spell it without looking at the bottle). In addition to the California winery's Gew├╝rztraminer having the best taste, I also heart their wines because they are committed to sustainability. When we had a winery 45 minutes away (and on the route to grandma's house), I bought their wine by the case like any good locavore. But since they closed, I feel good buying Fetzer's wines. For starters, all of their grapes have been grown organically since the 1980s. Check out their website to see all the great things they do. They have an entire section of their site devoted to sustainability. But I digress.

The most exciting thing about Gervais is that "everything" in his refrigerator is "organic and free-range, from fruits and vegetables to eggs and chicken." When asked if there is anything he won't eat, he says, "I won't eat any animal that's been mistreated, abused, or hasn't had a good life. I do eat fish and chicken, but it's got to be free-range, organic. I've got to sleep at night."

How exciting that a popular comedian like Gervais is saying this in a mainstream publication like Bon Apetit. Made my day! (Yeah, I know, it doesn't take much to get me excited sometimes.) Until I re-read the article just this very moment, I completely forgot that he also loves chocolate. I should invite him over for dinner sometime. We could have some goat cheese and Pinot Grigio on the deck, watching the geese and ducks on the pond. For dinner, I could make chicken satay from my happy, free-range chickens, and then we could have chocolate mousse pie or pudding for dessert. (He likes pudding.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Spotlight on rams

Since I love talking about lambs, and readers love seeing pictures of lambs, that leaves little time for us to talk about the boys, so I decided to devote a whole post to them today. After all, there is nothing as glorious as a gorgeous ram with their flowing fleece and regal horns.

First, I want to show everyone this handsome little boy who was born this spring. If he's not sold soon, he'll be wethered, so I thought I'd let everyone know that he's available.

I'm excited to be keeping this not-so-little guy as a new herdsire. I just love his horns and his long, wavy locks. He's out of my ram Willie, who was hit by a car and had to be put down this summer. Willie's fleece was harvested entirely by rooing (similar to shedding), which made it especially soft. I hope this little guy has inherited that ability. His dam is Kitty, which was one of Margaret's sheep before she went away to college. I am not a big fan of white sheep, but I couldn't wether this ram. Now, I just need a name for him. I'd like to somehow incorporate one or both parents' names, but what do Willie Wonka and Kitty have in common?

Then there is Rambrandt. His sire was Monet, and Rambrandt is pretty much his clone. Monet was beautiful but mean, so we decided to breed him to all the ewes one year and then butcher him. Well, that was the year the coyotes showed up and killed six of our lambs. The attacks only stopped when we starting spending the night in the pasture, which we continued for six weeks. The coyotes eventually got the last three, and Rambrandt is the only survivor of the lambs from that year, so he's very special. Monet's lambs had the most beautiful fleeces, and we're hoping Rambrandt's will also. His dam is White Feather, and lucky for us, he seems to have inherited her personality more than his sire's.

And finally, there is Teddy, who is the sire of about half the flock and grandsire to another quarter, so it's getting harder and harder to set up breeding groups for him. He pretty much has a standing date with White Feather and Majik, my two oldest ewes, but I'm wondering when I should start to think about retiring them since they're both seven now. Long-time blog readers might remember that Teddy survived a coyote attack last year. They ripped a four-inch by six-inch piece of skin off his right side, but it eventually healed. New skin grew, and it even produces wool.

So, there you have it -- the Antiquity Oaks rams. I need to sit down with pedigrees and figure out who will be bred to whom this year and then figure out how to actually keep them separated once the ewes start coming into heat.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Always more to learn
Giselle's birth

I was sitting in bed Monday morning, enjoying one of Mike's homemade croissants while checking email, when Katherine came running in babbling incoherently. I blurted, "Giselle!" and spewed masticated croissant all over my laptop.

"Yes! There's something huge sticking out. It's either a side or a butt or something. It's really hard."

As I jumped up and started to change clothes, I realized that Katherine would know a butt if she saw one. We've had plenty of breech births, and they're usually not a big deal. When I got to the barn, I was surprised by a large, flat thing that was presenting itself -- something that looked completely unfamiliar. I felt all over it, trying to figure out what I was feeling. I closed my eyes and tried to visualize the bones I felt. It didn't make sense. I tried to talk myself through it. "Okay, there's a bone going this way that feels like a leg bone, but there's a bone going this way that feels like a leg bone. This feels like a spine." But none of the parts were in the right places, and everything looked completely smooth.

In these situations, everyone says, "Just push the baby back inside, turn it around to a good position, and pull." The way they say, "Just push the baby back inside" makes it sound so easy. As I tried to push it back inside, I found it extremely difficult, both physically and mentally. Giselle didn't want the baby back inside, and it was completely counter-intuitive for me to try to push the baby back inside. I pushed, but I couldn't do it. I tried to find something to grab onto and pull, and somehow I got the baby out. The whole ordeal was more horrible than I can explain right now, and trust me when I say that none among you (except the hardiest farm women) really want the details. Next time, I will push with every ounce of energy I have to get the baby back inside, turn it to a proper position, and then pull it out.

He was dead. I laid him on a towel and covered him up. I don't remember what Katherine and I were saying as we were sitting there watching Giselle, but a couple minutes later, without a single push or sound, a kid literally fell onto the straw. As I picked him up and started to wipe off his nose, a second nose started coming out. I tossed a towel at Katherine and told her to catch the kid and clean it up, since I hadn't even cleaned the nose off the first one yet. When we put the babies in front of Giselle, she started licking them, but she didn't attempt to get up.

About half an hour after the kids had been born, Giselle still was not standing. I realized there wasn't a water bucket in the stall, which had just been cleaned for this very purpose. When Katherine brought the bucket of water, I told her to put it far enough away that Giselle would have to get up to reach it. One of her kids was wobbling around looking for his first meal, which would be impossible to obtain from a mother who was lying down. Giselle got up and took a couple steps to reach the bucket. She walked like a drunken sailor. Not good, I thought. I put the little buck under his mama so he could start nursing. Giselle's back end swayed to one side. I put my hand up to stop her from toppling. After a few minutes, her kid stopped nursing and she plopped down on her butt unintentionally.

I gave her some NutriDrench (a molasses, vitamin, and mineral concoction) and a shot of BoSe, a selenium supplement. There was little change throughout the day on Monday. She always seemed to be lying down, and she was wobbly when she was standing. She stood enough that the kids were able to get full tummies. She passed her placenta, but there appeared to be an umbilical cord hanging out. Another breeder and a vet once told me that was a sign of a retained kid.

I straddled her body, bent over, and put my hands under her belly right in front of her udder. I lifted, felt nothing hard, put her down, moved my hands slightly, lifted again, felt nothing and repeated the exercise a few more times. I thought I felt something hard, but was it a kid's bones or the doe's ligaments. Do does have ligaments there? I went to the stall next door and checked two of my milkers. Their bellies felt completely soft. I decided to check Giselle internally for another kid but found nothing. I gave her a shot of antibiotics and hoped that I had checked her thoroughly.

This morning, the cord is still hanging out. Her belly looks deflated. The straw is stained yellow in several areas around the stall. Perhaps she just had a lot of fluid in her uterus that made her look so big yesterday after she'd given birth. I've had a partially-retained placenta before; it didn't look like an umbilical cord. I have a thought haunting me; I know someone who lost a doe because of a retained kid.

After seven years and more than a hundred does kidding, I feel like I should know more than I do. I should have fewer questions. I should feel more confident, but instead of confidence, I only have hope.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Kid news (Michelle won!)

Michelle at Boulderneigh correctly guessed that Giselle would kid today, September 7. Although she was the only one who guessed the date correctly, she also guessed triplets correctly. (I was thinking triplets, too.) Michelle was guessing two does and a buck, but we wound up with triplet bucks. So, Michelle, send me (Deborah) an email at Antiquity Oaks dot com, let me know what fragrances you want, and I'll get your soap in the mail.

This is a bittersweet post, however, because one of the kids was born dead. I should consider us lucky that this is only the second time we've had a full-term kid born dead in seven years. It's been a strange and traumatic morning for Giselle and me, and I'm not sure we're out of the woods yet. The dead kid was trying to come out ribs first, which doesn't work so well, and now Giselle is not doing very well. She is trembling and having trouble standing. I've given her a shot of BoSe and some NutriDrench and am not sure what else to do for her. If anyone has any ideas, I'll be checking comments through the day, as we are also checking on Giselle.

Unfortunately, I don't have time to tell you the whole story right now, because we have company coming to celebrate the holiday. I need to get cooking, but I promise to tell you all about the birth and have pictures of the babies up on the blog in the morning. It's so weird when company is coming and real life rears its ugly head. Talk about feeling frazzled and conflicted, and I'm in a very sour mood, as even the tiniest things are making me snippy.

Tomato brag!

Yes, that tomato weighs two pounds! It's the biggest tomato we've ever grown here, and the interesting thing is that all the tomatoes on that plant are that big. There are four other "white giant" tomato plants, but the fruit on those plants all weigh about a pound. I'm thinking someone spilled the chicken manure where this one was planted.

These tomatoes make a delicious cream of tomato soup. I'll have to post the recipe and a picture next time Katherine makes it. Heirloom tomato soup is one of her specialties.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Kreativ Blogger Award

I'm not terribly good at passing on these awards, so I decided to get this one written up and posted before I forget where to find it. Thanks to J. M. Strother for nominating me! Jon is a fellow writer that I met online at the Editor Unleashed forum, which is the Parisian cafe of the 21st century for us creative types.

As usual, there are some conditions on accepting this award. I need to list seven of my favorite bloggers and seven of my favorite mystery authors. This is where I always get hung up on these awards! It is hard to whittle down my favorite bloggers to only seven, and in this case, I only read one mystery author. So, what's a modern writer to do but look to Google for an answer to that second question. Apparently, the Kreativ Blogger Award has gone through some creative changes over the course of being passed along, so I'm just going to have to be one of those creative folks who changes it up a bit more. Since I don't have seven favorite mystery authors, I'll list my seven favorite authors, both fiction and non-fiction.

In no particular order, here are seven blogs that I love:

1. There Are No Rules -- First of all, I love the name of this blog. It's about writing, by the way, and when it comes to writing and publishing, there are so many exceptions that you wonder if there are any rules. If you're a writer who wants to get published, this is a great blog to read. Jane Friedman is publisher over at Writer's Digest, and no one has her finger on the pulse, blood pressure, and vital signs of the publishing world like Jane. Ask her anything, and she knows about it!

2. Miss Effie's Diary -- If you like home-grown food and flowers, you'll love this one. Clink is also a great cook and wine lover. I've had the honor of meeting her and wish she lived closer. I'd be at her flower farm every week!

3. A Shepherd's Voice -- One of my Shetland blogpals and the breeder of one of my favorite sheep, Majik, although I have never actually met Nancy in person. You see, someone originally bought Majik as a lamb and didn't know what a gem she owned, so she sold her to me! One of these days, Nancy and I have to meet!

4. Boulderneigh -- Another Shetland blogpal out on the west coast.

5. Creative Canning -- A blog I discovered recently, which has a lot of really excellent recipes for canning.

6. Wandering Gecko -- A Shetland shepherdess across the big pond.

7. Little Country Acres -- And yet another Shetland shepherdess, this one only a few miles up the interstate from me. We bought our one and only babydoll sheep from her back when she also raised them.

Okay, now I have to remember to visit their blogs and let them know that they've been nominated. Whew, this award stuff is work!

As for seven favorite authors, it's a little easier, because if I forget someone, I don't have to worry about offending them. Stephen King is not reading my blog, and wouldn't be offended if little ol' me didn't list him anyway.

1. Michael Pollan -- big surprise! I've read his last three books and quote them all the time on here.

2. Tamar Myers -- the only mystery writer I read. She writes the Penn Dutch Inn mysteries about a Mennonite innkeeper who has to solve all the crimes in Hernia, Penn. since the sheriff is a bumbling idiot. All the titles are puns on food, like Too Many Crooks Spoil the Broth and The Hand That Rocks the Ladle. Each book also has five or six recipes in it.

3. Barbara Kingsolver -- I admit, I've only read one book of hers, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but she actually became one of my favorite people as a result. It's just cool to find someone who lives a life similar to mine. I felt a little less weird after reading her book.

4. Lorraine Heath -- a romance novelist. She used to write Texas after the Civil War, but now she writes Regencies (English historicals).

5. Jennifer Crusie -- she was working on a dissertation about sexism in romance novels and wound up writing them. Her books break all the rules of romance, so they're shelved in general fiction. I've laughed until I was in serious physical pain when reading her books. Now that she's teamed up with a former green beret to write cross-genre books, I suppose she might qualify as a mystery author.

6. and 7. John and Martha Storey -- Yes, they're publishers, but they're also authors. I probably own a dozen of their books. Every modern homesteader has at least a few of their books on the shelf. I could give some sort of Oscar-award-style testimonial like, "I couldn't have done it without them," but they would know that's not true. We would eventually get everything done around here, although we would have made a lot more mistakes along the way. The first time we butchered a chicken, I was reading aloud from the Country Skills book as my husband was attempting to do everything I read. If you're an aspiring homesteader, head on over to their website for a visit.

Well, that wasn't as painful as I expected. Thanks again to Jon for the honor, and for those of you who have been nominated by me, I hope you'll have fun passing along the award.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Contest: Only one doe left to kid this year

Giselle will be the last doe to kid this year, and she is due sometime in September. I don't know the exact due date because she was pen bred. So, the question is:
  • On what date will she kid? (It's okay to pick the same date as someone else.)
As a tie-breaker,
  • How many kids will she have?
And if there is still a tie
  • What genders will the kids be?

And the winner gets goat milk soap, of course, three bars in your choice of fragrances. We have no time to waste, so the deadline for entering is midnight central time Monday or when Giselle freshens, whichever comes first. The winner will be announced whenever Giselle decides to let us know who's right!

It wasn't easy getting a picture of her because she wouldn't stop eating, but I finally caught her in mid-munch. Of course, I can't blame her. It has to be exhausting walking around with such a big belly. I'm sure she needs all the calories she can eat!

Friday, September 4, 2009

And the winner is

Shula guessed the weight of the little ewe exactly! Guess that's what happens when you keep such good records. She said 6 pounds, 9 ounces was the average size of the lambs in her flock this year. Now I'm embarrassed to admit that this is the first time I have ever weighed a lamb, so I was really surprised how heavy she was. They weigh so much more than my baby goats! Shula, send me an email, (deborah) at antiquity oaks dot com, and let me know whether you want the roving or massage oil and which color or fragrance.

I can't say for sure whether we're done with lambing since this was all the result of a renegade ram. There is another ewe that looks a little wide, but we'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Our first sheep skins

It's been more than two years since we butchered our first lambs and sent off their pelts to be tanned at Stern Tannery in Wisconsin. Shortly after we shipped them, we learned that the tannery had burned down. They said they would rebuild but didn't give me an estimate about how long it would take to get my pelts back, so I anxiously waited and hoped that we had correctly salted the hides so that they wouldn't mildew in storage waiting for the tannery to get rebuilt.

Well, it finally happened, and we're pretty excited. The first one shown above is from Monet, a very mean ram who rammed one too many people. We consider ourselves lucky that no one ever sustained any broken bones. I was going to keep this for myself and put it on the floor next to my bed, but Joy peed on it within a few hours as I was contemplating whether or not it made a good rug. Now what? A chair pad, maybe? It's quite soft, but the hair isn't as long as the yearlings. They were all butchered six weeks after shearing, which is what the professionals suggested, but apparently adult sheep (or at least Monet) don't grow their wool as fast.

These three pelts are from wethers who were never named because we knew they were going to be lamb chops from the time they were born. We can adequately house and feed around 20 sheep, so all ram lambs get wethered (castrated) and wind up in the freezer when they're about a year old. (Of course, coyotes have done a lot to keep our numbers down in the past two years, but I hope that will change.) I will probably sell these.I know these pelts are really oddly shaped, but it was our first time, so try not to be too hard on us. Hopefully, they'll be better next time.

And finally, this is a very special pelt. It came from a two-month old ram lamb that died of natural causes. We decided to use it for practice. Our clumsy technique put several holes in the skin, but it handled the tanning process okay. Katherine is keeping this one because it was her lamb. The wool is so soft -- feels more like angora rabbit.
The coyotes killed one of our yearlings this spring, but we have two that will be butchered in the next month or so, which means we'll finally get to try this again.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chicken report card

Last week, I ordered 50 New Hampshire red pullets (baby hens) from McMurray Hatchery in Iowa. They'll be arriving next week and will become our new layers in spring 2010. It recently clicked that we are only getting about four or five dozen eggs a week. While that might sound like a lot to you, we have about 45 chickens. That means they're averaging one egg per week. Yes, I knew they were past their prime, but I didn't realize they were this bad. Maybe I just didn't want to face the truth, since I'm very thankful for our hens. They provide us with the most delicious eggs imaginable, but I don't even want to do the math to figure out how much those eggs are costing us at the rate they're laying.

And although I can't tell you who is the worst at pulling their own weight, I can tell you that the Rose-Comb Brown Leghorns are terrible. They are only a year and a half old, which means they're in their prime. They're laying less than one egg per week, which is sadly unacceptable. Most breeds lay at least four eggs per week the first year or two. Some lay an egg almost every day. Leghorns lay white eggs, while the rest of our chickens lay brown eggs, so there is no hiding their inefficiency. Their eggs are also extremely small -- almost as small as bantams -- which means that if a cake recipe calls for two eggs, you need four of their eggs, because they weigh half as much as the brown eggs.

I decided to try the Leghorns last year for two reasons. First, White Leghorns are the breed that the poultry industry has used to create the egg-laying chickens in factory farms, so I assumed they must have started with some good stock. Hmm, maybe not. Makes me wonder how they have reached the level of production that they have with commercial eggs. Second, I wanted a white-egg layer so that I'd know how they compared to my older hens, which I knew were reaching the end of their productive lives and would probably be butchered at the end of this year. It was definitely a good idea, because if the Leghorns laid brown eggs, they'd be sticking around through winter when the rest of the hens go down south. I never would have assumed that they could possibly be such terrible layers. Of course, this is how they perform on our farm. They could be completely different in climates that are warmer or colder.

The chickens in today's picture are a speckled Sussex and two black Australorps. I couldn't get a picture of the Leghorns, although I certainly tried. I went up and down the hill behind the chicken house, through the tall grass and brush, and those flighty little birds continued to elude me. I don't know how a coyote could catch one, but we only have six left; we had 12 a year ago.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Contest: Guess the ewe lamb's weight

It was so much fun having everyone guess the little doeling's weight last month that I'm going to do it for the Shetland ewe lamb. Here are a few hints. She weighs a lot more than the little doeling weighed! In fact, she weighs more than either doeling at a month of age, which I find fascinating since their adult weights will probably be within about 10-20% of each other. For those of you who know nothing about Shetlands, I will also add that she is well under 10 pounds. We weighed her when she was one day old, so she had already sucked down a good amount of mama's milk at that point. Of course, she'd also been going potty, so maybe the milk consumption doesn't matter much. Make your guesses in pounds and ounces.

And the prize is ... your choice of either five ounces of Shetland roving or a four-ounce bottle of my massage oil. If you choose the roving, you can choose between white, black, gray, and marbled black and white (from a spotted ewe). If you choose the massage oil, you can choose from among the many fragrances that I have available.

Deadline for entering the contest is Thursday at midnight central daylight time zone. Winner will be posted Friday.


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