Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Recovering from restless sky syndrome

We've had wind, rain, hail, and tornadoes, although the latter did not actually touch down on our property. The forecast (if it can be believed) is now calling for clear skies for the next week, which makes me happier than a pig in mud. I know it's my fault that we've had so much rain. You see, we used to have only two water hoses, which had to be pulled from the house-to-garden path to the barn-to-livestock-troughs frequently. I went out and bought two more water hoses a couple weeks ago, so they could stay permanently attached to the house, and we could water the garden at any time without having to go to the barn, unhook the hoses, and drag them to the house, where we'd connect them and string them out to the garden. The garden has not required watering since I bought the new hoses. So, if you live in the Midwest, now you know who to blame for all this rain!

When I looked at the farmer's forecast a few days ago, it said that soil moisture levels were excellent for crop growth. What a nice way to look at it. I screamed at the computer, "Yeah, and perfect for weeds, too!" We had mulched two rows of our peppers a couple weeks ago, but the third row was completely lost, because the weeds were just as big as the pepper plants. And it was the row that was hardest hit by the rabbits, which made it harder for Mike to sort through everything growing there and pull only the weeds. He didn't know when to expect a pepper plant, so he couldn't just start grabbing and yanking everything.

So, for the first time in eight years, I actually hired someone to help with the vegetable garden, which was a great idea. We managed to get the whole thing weeded and mulched, and Mike and I got all the tomato plants on trellises. For the first time in months, I'm actually feeling optimistic about the garden!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Summer storms

We've been having a lot of rain lately, too much rain, really. The frequent showers were annoying enough, as they kept chasing us in from the garden. In fact, a couple of times, Mike refused to come in, not believing that the rain would get serious. I, however, ran for the house when I looked up to see an ancient hickory tree bending in the wind towards me. A week or two ago, a tornado ripped across the cornfields a few miles north of us, destroying buildings in two nearby towns. Friday, we went to bed with no idea that the current rain would turn into a downpour. Saturday, I woke up far too early, and as the sun began to rise, I looked out the window and did a double take -- where pastures are normally located, there were lakes. We didn't know it at the time, but the hay field had even flooded, and a good portion of the hay that had been cut the day before had been washed away.

The plan for yesterday morning was to get ourselves into the garden first thing, so that we could begin to reclaim the space as ours, rather than allowing it to grow into a wild, weedy jungle. I wish I were exaggerating, but we have weeds as big as the tomato plants, which are currently about two feet tall. I woke up around six yesterday morning, and I immediately realized that it should be brighter. After all, the sun rises just before 5 a.m. this time of year. Yes, a storm was brewing. And before we could even think about coffee, it was pouring.

Monday night, when I was milking goats, I kept hearing a banging noise and wondered what kind of trouble the goats had found. Finally I realized it was thunder. Then the electricity was gone. Carmen kept munching her grain, as if nothing odd was happening. Luckily, I had put a night light in the milking parlor only three days earlier, during the Friday night storm, and this particular night light has a battery back-up, so if you lose power, it continues to shine. It felt like I was milking by candle light, but before I had a chance to get too nostalgic, the lights came back on. A couple minutes later, the lights went out again. And then they were back on. They flickered one final time before Mike came into the milking parlor.

He had been in the pasture when the storm began. He saw lightening strike the hay field across the road and was only able to count to three before he heard the thunder, meaning that the lightening was striking very close to us. To make the whole situation scarier, lightening was striking the ground all around him. And he was carrying his scythe, a long metal thing, which would act as a perfect lightening rod. I never understood why he didn't just leave it behind, but at least he arrived at the barn safely.

More storms are in the forecast for today and tomorrow.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Grocery shopping, homestead style

It just occurred to me that when most people shop for groceries, they go to the local store and buy whatever they need or want. But when I want meat, it means planning months in advance. At the moment, I'm thinking of buying some day-old cockerels to raise for meat. My chicken experiment yielded us five live mutant chickens, and of the eight heritage chicks I purchased, only two are roosters. We do have plenty of stew hens in the freezer, but there are some recipes where young chickens are needed. If we get chicks now, we'll have chicken in three to four months.

This past spring, I was talking about trying a new breed of pig -- Gloucester Old Spots. I am perfectly happy with the Tamworths that we raise, but I thought it would be fun to try a different breed. From weaning to processing pigs, you're looking at six to eight months. The GOS are more expensive than Tamworths, and unfortunately, I took a little too long thinking about it, and the piglets were all sold.

In January, I decided what vegetables we wanted to grow this year. Some were started in my basement and transplanted, and others were direct-seeded into the garden. We are still planting seeds, in fact. Just yesterday, I had the first fresh peas, which are heaven to the taste buds. I always hated those mushy things in cans, but peas fresh from the pod -- eaten right there in the garden -- are one of my favorite foods. And they're more special because they're only available this time of year. This morning, I was reading on another blog about mindful eating, and I think one of the things that makes me more mindful about eating is that we eat seasonally. When you haven't had a favorite food for six months or 11 months, you are completely present when you finally get to eat it!

Although this type of "grocery shopping" might seem like a lot of work -- and why bother? -- it makes life simpler. It is easier to eat healthy. Rather than having to think about our food a lot when we're ready to eat it -- is it organic; how many calories; how much fat -- we think about it ahead of time. In addition to knowing that the meat was raised in a healthy environment, we are also not tempted to over-indulge. Since a pig only produces about 12-15 pounds of bacon, that's all the bacon we have for a year. We're not eating it every day. It's one of those special occasion foods, usually reserved for birthdays or other breakfast celebrations. Our freezers are full of all sorts of meat, fruit, and vegetables, so when we're ready to fix dinner, we have what we need readily available. Big food corporations have deluded us into thinking that they've made our lives easier. But have they really? Yes, we can eat whenever and whatever we want, but unless we put a lot of thought into the consumption, we can wind up paying for that convenience with our health.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Berry harvest

Yesterday was a very productive day! We are not usually harvesting berries this early, but spring came early this year, and the warm weather and rain just keep coming, which means everything is happening early. Last year, Jonathan made raspberry-cherry jam on July 1, but cherries are already starting to rot on the bushes, so they will probably only be good for another few days.

We've picked more than 14 pounds of black raspberries, mulberries, and cherries in the last couple days. We've frozen some and made berry tea, mulberries muffins, a raspberry pudding cake, and cherry pancakes. We also canned seven half-pints of what Mike has dubbed "very berry-cherry jam" because it has two types of berries and cherries. I want to call it triple berry jam, because I think cherries are a berry. What do you think?

Sorry the picture didn't turn out better. I can't find my camera, so it was taken with Mike's cell phone. The cherries are a much brighter pink than the photo shows.

Coming attraction -- blackberry harvest is usually about a month behind the raspberries!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Kids grow up so fast!

It would be tough for me to say which I love more, goat babies or goat cheese. Neither one lasts very long around here. We eat the goat cheese quickly, and the kids grow up just as fast.

These are two of Cicada's boys. Remember the triplet bucklings with the floppy ears? Well, their ears are all perfectly erect now, just like they're supposed to be. The boys are still just as cute though.

I call these two Little Spot and Big Spot, because they look the same except for the spots on their back ends, which are different sizes. These two cuties will be wethered and sold as pets.
The February and March kids are really growing up! Carmen's doeling is on the left, and Andi's girls are the two on the right. I'll be keeping Andi's doe in the middle.

And this is my sweet little Agnes Grey, out of Anne Bronte. She is just as loving as her mama, and she is staying right here on Antiquity Oaks.

Of course, Athena's single doeling has grown up to be quite a big girl. With no competition at the buffet, she gets more than enough to eat. She'll be going to live at another goat farm next week when she turns two months old.

And Annie Oakley's 4-pound buckling is still bigger than both of his siblings. He'll be wethered and sold as a pet.

This is Annie Oakley's doeling. She's a cutie, except for the green ear. We were tattooing earlier, so the green will wear off within a few days. As much as I'd love to keep her, I'm already keeping five doelings, which is about three too many, so this little darling needs to be sold.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

War o' the wabbits

Just when you think you have it all figured out, Mother Nature throws something new into the game. I was expecting a great harvest from the garden this year. We had it all figured out -- weeding, watering, and more! I started several flats of seeds from January through March using my seed-starting heater and grow lights in the basement. I watered them with vermicompost tea, making them grow big and strong, rather than tall and spindly. Everything was going great!

Everything was going great until I actually started transplanting into the garden. That's when the latest, most annoying gardening varmint decided to show us that we really don't have it all figured out. In eight years out here and 12 years gardening in the burbs, we have never had a problem with rabbits, and we did not even put up a fence the first two or three years out here. As you know, Mike spent a couple days digging up the perimeter of the garden to bury chicken wire last month, because a welded wire fence wasn't good enough to keep the rabbits out of the garden.

In addition to our efforts, Sam the barn cat tried to help. The day after Mike had the fence reinforced, Sam caught a rabbit one evening as I was feeding baby goats. The next day, Katherine told me she found a rabbit's head near the barn.

Last week, I thought we had finally triumphed over the little rodents. Then three nights ago, I left the gate open overnight. The next morning, I witnessed death and destruction. Apparently rabbits are not thrilled with celery or parsley, but they have to rip off a leaf or stalk from each plant to be sure. They don't really like tomatillos either, but they have to rip them out of the ground to check them out. They do, however, love marigolds and statice. There was no trace of the red marigolds at all, but the white marigolds were all ripped up and laying on the dirt. I could just see the little rodents thumbing their wriggly little noses at me.

I called Porter into the garden and walked around the perimeter with him. We walked near all the tall weeds and grasses, just in case a rabbit was hiding in there. Obviously, I didn't want to lock rabbits in the garden overnight.

But I'm afraid that is exactly what happened. Yesterday I discovered that more than half of the pepper plants were eaten down to the ground, including most of the heirlooms. A jalapeno plant with a baby pepper on it was ripped up and left to die. There were three rows of peppers, and more than 20 are now history, such as the sheepnose pimento and tequila sunrise. And if they get hungry enough, it looks like they will settle for a celery plant, as one of them was eaten down to the ground. They also decided to try every leaf on a parsley plant, leaving it on the dirt after deciding that it tasted just as bad as the last bite.

So, we spent Wednesday trying to find the little rodents in the garden. Although I didn't find a rabbit, I did find a burrow in a compost pile. I destroyed it. Jonathan spent the afternoon mowing down all of the grass and weeds in there. He found nothing. I brought Porter into the garden again, and we walked around hoping to find any rabbits that might be hiding. Nothing.

This morning, part of me does not even want to go out there and look at it. Of course, there is the hopeful part of me that thinks we've done everything we can, so surely we've had no more losses.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Calves around March 6 next year?

Two Fridays ago on May 28, one of the cows was in heat. I checked a gestation calendar, and if we bred her, she would be due around March 6. We spent the whole day weighing pros and cons of an early March calving versus a late March calving. We could be in the midst of a snowstorm on March 6, but on the 27th, we could be in the midst of a snow storm or mud season. Tough choice. By late afternoon, the two bovine lovebirds wore down us down. All logic was thrown out the window after listening to the two of them calling to each other -- cow in the west pasture and bull in the east pasture and our house in the middle.

We went to get Jaxon. Mike snapped the lead rope onto his halter and started walking. To be precise, Mike started walking. Jaxon just stood there. Mike pulled, and I stood behind the bull to the side, where I hoped he couldn't kick me, and I pushed and patted his rump. He'd walk a few steps and stop. Of course, at this point, the cow was completely silent, so it was hard to convince him that he was going to like the new pasture better than his current one.

As we were passing the garden, I met up with a long, fat snake. I screamed. Jaxon looked unimpressed. Mike was disappointed that he didn't have time to catch the snake and check it out more closely.

Finally, we got Jaxon to the cows, who were still completely silent, which was rather frustrating, because it was their bawling that caused us to finally decide to bring Jaxon to their pasture. Even when we took Jaxon into their pasture, they stood there looking at him from a distance. Mike led Jaxon halfway to the girls. As soon as Jaxon realized they were girls, he wanted to get to work right away. In fact, Mike didn't even have a chance to get the lead rope off the halter. Jaxon's eagerness scared the girls a bit, and you can see in the top photo that they took off in opposite directions. Ultimately, though, they decided to give him a chance, and they started to play "ring around the rosie" with him.

Now you have to remember that Jaxon is only 10 months old. He is technically capable of doing the deed, however, his knowledge is lacking, and there is no formal education program for young bulls, so it's sadly a matter of trial and error. And Jaxon made every error imaginable. He knew he was supposed to mount Molly, but he wasn't sure which side or end he was supposed to mount. Wanting to be thorough and not let us down, he went about mounting her from every possible angle. It was funny the first dozen or so times, then it got kind of sad. He did find the right end a couple times, but either he's too short or didn't have enough energy left to give himself the lift that he needed to do the job.

After half an hour, we decided to leave him with the cows. It would be nice to know when calves are due, but we didn't have the heart to take him away from the girls after he'd tried so hard. And who knows -- maybe in the next couple of hours, after we left, everything just clicked and he got it figured out. I guess we'll know next March.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Llama shearing excitement

Llama shearing yesterday went well. We caught all seven llamas and brought them into the barn in less than an hour, so we were very proud of ourselves. When the shearers arrived, we were able to get started immediately, and when they left, we started taking the llamas back to their respective pastures. That's when the fun began.

I was leading Big Mama and Little Man, and Mike was leading Katy. When we were about to go through the door of the barn, Katy reared up and refused to go through the door. Most llamas don't like going through doors, so that didn't surprise us much, but once Mike led her through the door, she really went mad. She started rearing up like a wild stallion, galloped around Mike, wrapping the rope around him and pulling him to the ground. I put the other two llamas into their pastures and dropped their lead ropes, thinking there was something I could do to help Mike, but then I stood there feeling completely helpless. The rope was wrapped around his body, and Katy was rearing up repeatedly and landing within inches of his body. Her long neck swung around wildly, and her head hit Mike's with a clunk. He was curled up in a ball being rolled and twisted around on the ground as she reared up, and I kept telling myself, This is only a 250-pound llama. She can't kill him like a horse could.

Then I noticed our livestock guardian standing nearby. He was looking at all of us as if assessing the situation. Fearing he would try to help, I yelled at him, "Sovalye, back off!" He turned around and started to walk away. As soon as he started to walk away, Katy calmed down. Mike stood up, wincing and limping, with dirt and grass stains on his T-shirt.

"Are you okay?" I gave him a split second to respond. "Are you okay?" I could hardly believe he was standing. "Quick, get her in here before she gets upset again." I opened the gate, and Mike led Katy through it.

After he unclipped the lead rope from her halter, I again asked if he was okay, and he said yes, but I didn't believe him. "Let me see your back." I lifted his T-shirt. Red marks were scattered across his back, and there was a nasty rope burn under his arm. The front of his body looked fine.

Realizing that the dog's presence was probably was sent Katy into fits of hysteria, Mike said, "I think that's how they scare off coyotes."

"Well, it sure scared me!"

This morning, I'm finally convinced that Mike is fine, but I'm still confused about the llama's behavior. Sovalye has been here longer than Katy, and she's seen him plenty of times, although they don't live in the same pasture. We brought her through Sovalye's pasture on the way into the barn, and she was fine, so we're assuming that proximity plays a big part and will make sure he's not nearby next time we need to move her.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cat bite frustration

Welcome to rural America, where Animal Control only deals with dogs, and where the bite victim pays to have a cat euthanized and tested for rabies. Yes, that's right, we have to pay the county $185 to euthanize the cat that we caught and drove to Animal Control. The woman said she was not even allowed to remove the cat from our crate, and that we had to pay $155 cash to have the cat euthanized, the head removed, the remains cremated, the head overnighted to the state lab, and the tissue samples run. This morning, we get a call from them saying that we have to come in and pay $185, including the $30 for overnight kennel fee -- even though the cat stayed in our crate.

So, I asked, wondering what our tax dollars pay for, "In the future, when stray cats show up, can we just call you, and you'll come pick up the cats for free?"

"No, we don't do cats or wild animals. We only deal with dogs. There are no cat leash laws or rabies requirements in the county. Cats don't have to be vaccinated. They can run around anywhere. We don't do anything about it."

"So," I said, pointing to the crate with the sick cat, "if a cat shows up looking like this in the future, can we just shoot it?"

"Well, I wouldn't say that," she responded, "but I imagine a lot of farmers do that."

She also shared a little tidbit with us -- they found a rabid bat near us last year. I didn't think about it at the moment, but I'm wondering how they learned that, since they don't "do" wildlife. Now, it makes me wonder how big the rabies problem is in the county, since they don't "do" wildlife. How did they even learn that one bat had rabies? And yes, we have bats here on the farm. We see them at sunset flying around the house and barn.

On the brighter side, Katherine is doing well. She slept a lot yesterday and is worried about her math exam tonight, since she's right handed, and that's the arm that's injured. (She's taking a summer class.)

I forgot to share a funny story with you yesterday, so here you go. In the ER Sunday night, when the doctor said that she'd only heard of one person surviving rabies, and that was after spending months in a coma, Katherine said incredulously, "I'm in college. I don't have time to be in a coma." I thought, yeah, that's true, a coma would put her behind by a semester or two. It was not until I'd had a good night's sleep that the humor of her comment really sunk in.


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