Thursday, March 25, 2010

Llama training

Katherine and I have been working with Little Man to teach him to walk on a lead. Although he is small enough to not be much of a challenge right now, he will be impossible to handle when he gets as big as his mama -- if we don't do enough training now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Andi's twin does

Andromeda, whom we call Andi, also gave birth last Wednesday on St. Patrick's Day, which was a perfect day to give birth to two fiery redheads. Katherine said they were both screaming their lungs out as soon as they were born. It was another textbook perfect birth, and the little darlings are doing quite well.

It's very tempting to keep one of them because the genetics say that they should be outstanding milkers. I keep telling myself that I need to cut back, but . . .

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cinderella's baby boy

There was nothing about Cinderella's birth that surprised anyone on the farm. As I expected, she kidded when I was in the little city last Wednesday. Katherine took care of everything, which basically involved drying off the little buck when he was born. The birth was textbook perfect, and he was trying to stand up and looking for breakfast within ten minutes.

This picture was taken Monday when he was five days old. Yes, he is big! We're already milking his mama, because otherwise he'll get fat, and her production will be pathetic. It's all about supply and demand, and although he is doing his best to demand a lot, one little buck can only eat so much. The little guy will be wethered and sold as a pet.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Who dunnit?

When Mike and I were in Peoria last Thursday helping with a relative having surgery, we received a phone call from Katherine that a goose had been killed. A wild predator was ruled out because the geese are in an area that is enclosed with woven wire. That only left Porter and Trouper. Porter is three years old and has never laid teeth on an animal here. That left Trouper as the likely culprit. A few days earlier I had seen him run at the geese, but he turned at the last minute and left them alone. I had also seen him snap at animals but never actually make a connection.

As we were driving home that night, we received another phone call. A second goose had been found dead. Katherine then locked up both dogs. When I arrived home, I had to pack and leave for a homeschooling conference where I was speaking on Friday and Saturday, so I didn't have time to investigate. While I was gone, Mike said he let the two dogs out of the barn and came inside for about two minutes. He heard a racket and looked outside. A dog was on top of a goose, although he couldn't tell which one. He started screaming, and the dog left the goose. Later, he let the dogs out one at a time, and nothing happened. Sounds like classic "pack mentality," but that doesn't make the situation any better.

What is especially sad is that one of the murdered geese was a mama making a nest. I had been so proud of her because she'd chosen to go into a little chicken coop to make her nest, so we would be able to close the door every night, keeping her completely safe from predators. How ironic that her seemingly brilliant idea was what caused her demise.

What to do now? Trouper has incontinence, which makes it a challenge for him to spend any time in the house. I had not bought the belly bands that someone suggested because I kept thinking that it was a temporary problem. It's muddy outside this time of year, so Porter doesn't really like coming into the house because we always clean his feet. He had been happy to stay outside with Trouper, and they'd been spending the nights together in the barn office. It seemed like a great solution until geese started getting killed. Now the two dogs spend their time locked up unless someone is out there to supervise. I don't want to bring Porter back into the house, because Trouper would be lonely. And although he didn't attack any geese when Mike let him run around alone, I'm not convinced that it's a good idea to leave Trouper unattended around any fowl.

I need to find a new home for Trouper, although I know his resume isn't great. Being incontinent makes it harder to find him a city home. His habit of chasing poultry makes it unwise to send him to a country home. He is a very sweet dog though. He really likes to please people and comes the moment I call him. His pelvis seems to have healed fine -- as evidenced by his newfound love of chasing poultry. If you know anyone who might be able to give Trouper a good home, send them the link to this post and have them contact me.

To read more about Trouper, you can check out this post about how we found him, his first vet visit, and another post about his recuperation.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Growing bean sprouts

I'm not ashamed to admit that my first efforts at gardening in the sandy soil of Florida more than 20 years ago yielded only a handful of green beans that were tough and unpalatable. However, I have been growing something successfully for two decades -- sprouts! When my first child was still a baby, I bought a set of sprouting lids for wide-mouthed canning jars, and I've been growing sprouts in my kitchen ever since.

If you can pour yourself a glass of water, you can grow sprouts. To grow bean sprouts, all you have to do is put 1/4 cup of mung bean seeds into a jar, add enough water to cover the seeds, and let it sit on your counter for a few hours or overnight if you'll be asleep in a few hours. Then dump the water and rinse the sprouts a few times a day. In about four days, your two ounces of seeds will have yielded about 10 ounces of crunchy sprouts. We used this batch in an oriental stir-fry with onions, green peppers, celery, mushrooms, and tofu.

Warning: Once you've grown your own sprouts, you will no longer be content with store-bought.

Sprouting seeds are available in many health food stores, but if you can't find them locally, you can buy them online through Frontier Co-op, where you can also buy lots of flavorful herbs.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Yes, I have bad days

I'm breaking one of my cardinal rules -- don't cry and blog -- because sometimes I think all of this might look too easy. It's not easy. But I feel like I can't complain, because I chose this life. You're going to have bad days, regardless of where you are or what you're doing. And I'd rather deal with the frustrations of this life than most any other.

But regardless of what life you choose, there will always be things that get thrown into your life, over which you have no control. This morning, I discovered via Facebook that a close relative would be having surgery. And based on what the message said, I couldn't help but feel that other family members were blaming us for not doing more. Well, how can you do anything for people who don't tell you something is wrong? I may be talented, but mind reading is not among my gifts. I wish it were.

Then I had a very frustrating conversation with a vet at U of I. I should devote a whole post to my older llama problem, but I really hate it when vets start reading from the textbook and don't listen to what you tell them.

Then I realized that I have set myself up to do more than is humanly possible in the next couple days. I feel like we should be there for the family on Thursday when this relative has surgery, but my week had already been booked solid before we knew about the surgery. Tomorrow, I have appointments an hour away with a chiropractor and massage therapist, which I really need to see, because I live with chronic pain. And I was going to get my hair cut because I'm speaking at a conference on Friday and Saturday. Thursday I was already scheduled for my own medical issue -- a thyroid ultrasound, which I don't take very seriously, but I suppose I should keep an eye on the nodules that have taken up residence on my thyroid for the past couple years, just to make sure they don't grow into a problem. I'm not sure when I'll have the time to sit around and wait for the llama to poop, so I can catch a stool sample.

All those seeds I've started in the last couple months are now at a point where they need to be transplanted into bigger pots. I got one done today and then started to feel overwhelmed and decided they could wait until next week.

And I hate to break this to everyone, but I don't have perfect children. They're on spring break, and they've been slacking. There are so many things that need to be done -- trimming hooves on about 30 goats, for starters. And all the stalls in the barn need to be cleaned out, because it hasn't been done since November. Mike has been gutting the pump room, and they should be helping him as he pulls out paneling and insulation to replace it with new insulation and paneling. The old insulation had fallen down about halfway, so the upper half of the walls were not insulated at all. This may come as a shock to everyone, but they'd rather be on Facebook than doing any of these exciting projects. So, they don't always do everything when we ask the first time.

Today, I did manage to get the fruit trees pruned, although only because five of the 16 didn't make it through the winter, so now we're down to nine fruit trees. And Jonathan helped me to make seven pints of orange marmalade using organic oranges and lemons I bought at the store. I got almost everything lined up so we can start back on 305-day milk test with our goats. Before I go to bed tonight, I still have to put together a soap and yarn order, and between appointments tomorrow, I need to get outlines together for the six sessions that I'm doing at the conference. I also have to make a list of things to take for my presentations -- all the supplies for making soap, my vermicomposting bin, spinning wheel, roving, yarn, a raw fleece, and oh crap -- I seriously just realized that I'm supposed to have enough drop spindles for everyone in the spinning workshop.

We have to figure out how to make the milking machine work before Thursday and teach Mike to use it, since Katherine and I will both be gone, and we're the only two who know how to milk goats. It's not as easy as it sounds since we bought the belly pail for the milking machine, which would fit perfectly under a big goat. Supposedly for our little Nigerians, we'll have to cut a hole in the milking stand for the pail to sit in there while the goat is being milked. I suppose there is also some kind of learning curve for the goats who are accustomed to being hand milked? Guess we'll find out soon.

At some point in the next two days -- probably sooner rather than later, because ligaments have loosened up -- two goats are going to give birth!

And when am I supposed to get any of this done with all my appointments tomorrow and a relative having surgery on Thursday? Is it a surprise that I collapsed in tears around six o'clock tonight? If my life were a movie, this would be when the assistant comes in with her steno pad, and I calmly start dictating all the things she has to get done in the next two days! At least, if I were writing the screenplay, that's what would happen.

Making gjetost

My first attempt to make gjetost was an icky failure. I wound up with a bit of salty, sweet, grainy goo in the bottom of a pan after 11 hours of simmering whey on the stove. It looked like sand that had sunk to the bottom of a watered down caramel sauce. I had used the recipe in Ricky Carroll's book, which was inadequate.

Then blogpal Maggie, who had originally inspired me to try this cheese, suggested I check out a couple of other sources. I found David Fankhauser's recipe to be straightforward, and I decided to try again. Combing what I'd read in all three recipes, and using a bit of my own cooking knowledge, I decided to use a stick blender at the end. This is what it looked like after using the stick blender.
My husband was actually the person to do it, and it worked beautifully. I should have taken a picture before using the stick blender, but if you look at Fankhauser's pictures, that's what it looked like -- grainy. I don't think he's made gjetost much, because I don't think it would be possible to whisk out the graininess. This is what it looked like when it was ready to pour into the buttered bread pan and cool.
It was so sweet, it tasted like candy, and we all had to remind ourselves not to eat too much! We had quite a bit of it plain, and we sliced some for breakfast and put it on whole wheat biscuits, which was also heavenly.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Making ginger ale

I just drank my first glass of homemade ginger ale, and it won't be the last. It was bubbly, sweet, and delicious! Credit goes to David Fankhauser's website for the instructions. Yes, it really is that easy. No, it doesn't taste yeasty or beer-like. I actually doubled the ginger, because I love ginger, and I thought it was just right.

I only drink all-natural beverages -- water, coffee, tea, and wine, but yes, I have an urge for something different every now and then. In summer, I often make lemon balm-spearmint iced tea, which is a favorite. Now I have even more options. I will be trying the cream soda from Fankhauser's site (on the root beer page), and I have a few ideas of my own for other bubbly beverages. Of course, I'll share them with you as I get them figured out.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring cleaning has begun

Modern cleaning and organizational experts tell us that we should stay on top of things 365 days a year, which means spring cleaning should not be necessary. Well, modern organizational experts don't live on a farm where winter temperatures get down into single digits and below zero! When it's that cold outside, you do what you have to do, and then you run for the warmth of your house. That means that a lot of things don't get put away or cleaned up, and organization goes out the window.

Yesterday's temperatures went up to 60 F, which is the warmest it has been since November, which means I spent the whole day outside. First thing I did was clean the windows in the new kidding pens. I know it sounds trivial, but it makes the whole area look so much better when the sun can stream through the windows. Jonathan cleaned out the kidding pens after I moved the mamas and babies to the nursery pen, where the kids can grow up together, play, and learn about the harsh realities of life, such as -- not everybody loves you like your mama, and if you try to nurse off the wrong teat, you're liable to get your tail bit!

I also installed a mineral feeder in the nursery pen, since I see no point in Mike wasting his time doing something I am perfectly capable of doing myself, like a using a hammer and screwdriver for something simple that won't imperil human or goat if I mess it up.

Then I tackled the storeroom in the main barn, which was no small task. I spent three or four hours in there, washing bottles, pans, feeders, and buckets. I dusted off shelves and bottles of hydrogen peroxide, Basic H fly spray, iodine, OB lube, horse shampoo, etc., etc. I put everything back where it belonged and filled up a big bag with trash. This is the "before" picture. The one above is "after."

At the end of the day, after the sun had long gone down, I sat in the nursery pen with the mamas and babies for far longer than I should have.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

New llamas on the farm

Ladies, you know we need girlfriends, right? Well, the same is true for lady llamas. Unfortunately, I realized this after we decided to add a single female to our llama herd last year. Katy was going to be in the pasture adjacent to the boys. That lasted less than a week. I looked out the window one morning, and she was with the boys. If she was skilled enough to jump the fence, there wasn't much I could do to keep her away from the boys, so there she stays.

Unfortunately, we did not know that Katy was pregnant when we bought her, and there is one big problem with her living with the boys. Unbeknownst to us, she gave birth in October, and we found the dead cria several days later. One of my llama-raising friends said males should not be with the females during birth because they get kind of nutty, and he could have accidentally killed the cria. Even if that is not what happened last time, it could happen next time, so the safe thing is to separate her from the boys when she gets close to giving birth.

I kept thinking that I wanted to get a girlfriend for Katy, so the two of them could hang out together, chew the hay, talk about fiber, crias, pasture management, and other things that lady llamas talk about. But my mind has been occupied for several months now with purchasing a bullfriend for the cows, and I sort of forgot about Katy's girlfriend. (Bull shopping is quite a challenge, but that's a post for another day!)

Then today someone bought seven sheep. She stopped here after picking up some llamas at another farm. When I looked into her trailer, it was llama love at first site. There was this enormous white llama, and all I could think was how much I wanted a big mama llama to have big livestock-guarding llamas. That's the reason I got a female llama to begin with -- two of the four original llamas I purchased are in their mid-teens, so I figured if I had a female, I could breed my own replacements. And we could certainly use more llamas guarding the back 20, which is currently the wild south. After mentioning my admiration for the big mama llama several times, the owner asked if I wanted her. What? Do I want her? Yes! The only thing was that I'd have to take her baby also, but he's her son, so I'm thinking he'll grow up to be a big, strong, coyote-chasing guardian.

Now, they just need names, before I get so accustomed to calling her Big Mama that nothing else will stick. And what should we call the little guy?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Let the maple syruping begin!

Thursday morning, our first adventure with maple syrup began. Before leaving for work, Mike went out to one of the maple groves and put ten taps into nine maple trees. Jonathan checked on the taps during the day. At first, it was slow. Some buckets remained empty for a few hours, but a couple trees had three inches of sap within a few hours. By mid-afternoon, three buckets were half full, so Jonathan emptied them. We assumed the buckets would be fine until Friday morning.

Friday started with eight trips across the creek to empty buckets. The buckets on the south end of the grove were completely full, and these are two gallon buckets.
The 10-gallon evaporator was full in no time.
We were filling additional pots on the stove, and we were looking for additional containers to store sap until the boiling sap had evaporated enough moisture for us to add more fresh sap to the pots. By the end of the day, we had collected almost 30 gallons of sap.

We boiled all day, and we still had sap sitting in pitchers and milk buckets, waiting to be added to the pots. And of course, we kept going across the creek, emptying more buckets so they wouldn't overflow. We had to stop boiling in the house when the sun went down, because we had to close windows, and the humidity started building up on windows quickly! By midnight, we decided we would be able to go to bed without worrying about the sap suddenly becoming syrup and being ruined before we got up in the morning. Just to be safe, Mike did check on it around 3:30, and the big evaporator was down about halfway.

By this morning, the sap was close enough to syrup that I had some on my homemade yogurt. It was so delicious! However, it wasn't quite "real" syrup yet, and if we were to bottle it at this stage, it would grow mold, because it still needed to be evaporated more, so we started adding more fresh sap to the pot. We're hoping by the end of today, we'll have boiled down the sap enough that we will be able to bottle our first three or four quarts of syrup.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Our first mushrooms

This is purely a learning experience, but we've produced our first mushrooms. I bought one of those mushroom growing kits that you see in many of the gardening catalogs. It's overpriced for the amount of mushrooms it will grow, but I'm viewing it as a stepping stone to learning to grow our own mushrooms in compost and in logs on the back 20.

Today's harvest was 8 ounces, which is the weight of those little boxes of mushrooms you buy in the store.
And no surprise, they were really delicious!

I'm looking forward to learning more about growing mushrooms, so we can add yet another home-grown food to our larder.


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