Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fun at the Mother Earth News Fair

Mike and I drove to Pennsylvania last Friday, arriving well after midnight, due to a variety of delays. I tried to "sleep fast" as my father used to say and was awake at seven, ready to get ready for my session at 10:15 -- until Mike checked the schedule and told me I was not presenting until 1:15. Then I slowed down far too much. I tend to forget how long it takes to put on make-up and fix my hair, since I rarely do either on the homestead. We were not staying at the resort because it was sold out much quicker than I expected, so we were at a hotel about half an hour away. We finally hit the road about 25 minutes before the first session was due to start. We were driving along through beautiful foliage, up and down hills, and then we stopped behind a long line of cars.

I assumed there would be a lot of people attending, but I did not expect a traffic jam in the middle of the mountains. We inched along and watched the clock ticking off the minutes. The lower parking lot was already full, and we were directed up a hill. I panicked about the long walk, wishing I had worn my sneakers instead of dress shoes, until I saw the shuttle buses. It was close to 11 a.m. when I finally arrived at speaker check-in. As soon as Mike had his name badge, he was off and running to a session on sustainable energy, and I was asked to do a quick video interview about my upcoming session. I had no idea it would be so challenging to say something succinct about baking bread!

Both of my bread baking sessions went well and were filled to capacity. People were standing against the walls and sitting in the aisles. With only 45 minutes, I didn't have time to actually bake bread, so I talked about the basics of yeast bread, and I mixed up some dough so that people could see what it looks like when it's too sticky and when it's just right. Sorry, we don't have any pictures of the actual bread action. My camera was not cooperating. Almost every photo was horribly blurry.

My soap making session went well until the very end. I was in the middle of making soap when a woman stood up at the back of the room and said, "You have to stop now!" She was holding up a two-foot long sign that read, "STOP." Well, you can't just stop in the middle of making soap. Unfortunately, everyone started to get up, and many of them swarmed around me and my pot of mid-saponification oil-milk-lye mix. And they started asking me questions. Of course, they seemed like simple questions, which would have been easy to answer, if I were in a more relaxed environment. One person asked if she could put lavender flowers in soap. I explained that the heat from saponification would cause them to turn black and look like little bugs. Then a couple of other people were shouting questions about using herbs from opposite sides of where I was standing. And with lavender flowers still on the brain, I said, "No, you can't put herbs in soap." Of course, later I realized that is not even a yes-no question. Obviously, you can put herbs in soap, but depending upon your motivation, it may or may not give you the desired effect. For example, if you're doing it for scent, it's going to vary from one herb to another, but in general, it is really not going to work very well. Too bad I can't have a re-do of my last five or ten minutes.

A car fueled by wood
Mike attended mostly sessions on renewable energy, including lectures on how to build an electric car and a wood-powered car. He is really excited about the electric car, because we've had a dead car sitting next to the barn for a year already, while he planned his own engine design. However, at the conference, the presenter used an old electric forklift engine to make an electric car. So, Mike is now looking for a used electric forklift engine. If you know where he can get one, be sure to let us know!

The really exciting thing is that the Mother Earth News people are planning four -- yes, four -- fairs next year. Locations are not finalized yet, but they're looking at two on each side of the country, so it will be easier for people in different parts of the country to attend! It's obvious that everyone wants to do it again, because you heard lots of talk about "next year." I know I want to do it again!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mother Earth News Fair: Soap making

As promised, here is the handout for the soap making session. Sorry there weren't enough for everyone. And for my regular blog readers, I'll be writing about the conference tomorrow! It was amazing, and Mike and I were really inspired.

There are many sources of soapmaking supplies on the Internet, but these are the ones I've used, and I've had good experiences with them. If there are other sources that you've used and would recommend, feel free to add a link in the comment section. The second page of the handout was a printout of a recipe in the lye calculator, which can be found at Majestic Mountain Sage. If you had questions that did not get answered at the session, also feel free to post in the comment section. Happy soaping!

For more information:
Has basic soapmaking information and lots of recipes!

Supplies online: (formerly The Scent Shack in Geneva, IL)
All of the above provide oils, colors, scents, molds, etc. Oils available in large quantities (gallon, five gallons, 55 gallons)

Making your own soap:
When creating your own recipes, you need to determine the correct amount of lye. A lye calculator is available at Majestic Mountain Sage’s website.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mother Earth News Fair: Baking bread

The following information is from a handout that participants will receive at my bread baking session today and tomorrow at the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania.

Basic bread recipe
Makes 1 loaf, 1 dozen rolls, or 1 thick-crust pizza
3 cups flour
1 cup water (or milk, tomato juice, pasta sauce, orange juice, etc.)
2 t. yeast
1 t. salt
1 T. sugar or honey
2 T. butter or oil
optional: ¼ cup dried cranberries, raisins, uncooked oatmeal, chocolate chips
These ingredients can be put into a bread machine and baked, or they can be mixed by hand and baked in a loaf pan at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes for loaves, 20-25 minutes for rolls, if using unbleached flour. If using whole wheat, bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. You can let it rise two or three times or not at all. The more times it rises, the lighter the bread will be. If you bake it on the first rise, it will be quite dense. Bake it on the third rise, and it will be much lighter.
Delicious breakfast bread: Use orange juice as your liquid and add cranberries! When we had a bread machine, this was one of my favorite recipes to put on the timer, so we would have hot bread when we woke up in the morning.
French bread recipe
Makes 3 loaves or 3 dozen rolls (If you want a no-fail recipe for sandwiches, this is it!)
3 cups water
2 T. yeast
2 t. salt
6-8 cups unbleached flour (If you use whole wheat, the bread will be like a brick, because there is no sweetener in this recipe to feed the yeast, so it doesn't rise as much a the first recipe.)
Mix first three ingredients in a bowl. Add 6 cups flour. Add additional flour ¼ cup at a time until dough does not stick to your fingers. Dough can be used to make three loaves at once, or it can be refrigerated for several days (in a greased bowl, loosely covered with plastic wrap) and used to make individual rolls or loaves as needed. Dough left in refrigerator will develop a sourdough taste. When ready to bake, shape into desired loaves or rolls. Let rise half an hour if starting at room temperature; rise two or three hours if bread has just been removed from refrigerator. If cooking as baguette loaves on a flat baking stone, and you want a crispy crust, sprits with water before placing in 400-degree oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes for loaves, 20-25 minutes for rolls.
This is a great recipe for making a bread braid. Just make three long, skinny snakes of dough and braid them. Let rise about 20-30 minutes and bake, as above.
Both of these breads can be stored at room temperature, wrapped in a cloth. They will go stale long before they mold. As each day passes, they will become drier. After two or three days, it's really best to just cube whatever bread is left. You can make croutons by sprinkling it with spices and putting in a 200 degree oven for a couple hours. You can put bread cubes in a freezer bag or box and freeze for future poultry stuffing.
Use French bread recipe, and after dough has risen once, punch down, and tear dough into egg-sized pieces. Roll out on floured surface. Oil a cast-iron skillet with butter and cook naan for a couple minutes on medium heat. Flip when bubbles start to form in naan, and cook second side until it begins to brown. After it’s done, put it on a plate and smear it with butter and crushed garlic, if desired.
· I don’t have enough time. Answer: Mix up a batch when you have 10 minutes to spare and keep it in your frig. As you need bread through the week, tear off a piece and bake it. OR Bake four or six loaves at once and freeze all but one. OR Teach your spouse and children to bake bread. The top recipe is taped inside my cabinet, so it's always available for anyone.
· We wouldn’t eat a whole loaf before it molds. Answer: See first answer. You don’t have to make a whole loaf. However, home-baked bread tastes so good, it gets eaten much faster than store-bought bread.
· I’ve heard it’s really hard, and I don’t think I can do it. Answer: You’ve got nothing to lose! Even if you forget the yeast, which is absolutely necessary, you can use the dough to make crackers or pretzels. If the bread falls, it will still taste good. And if you think it’s really too ugly to let anyone see it, you can cube it and use it to make bread pudding.
· Always add flour to the mix gradually. It is much easier to add flour to a sticky dough than the add water to a dry dough.
· Forgot yeast? No problem! Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thick and cut into squares or triangles. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes, and you have crackers! Sprinkle with Kosher salt or garlic salt before baking, if desired.
· Dough is too sticky to handle? Add more flour ¼ cup at a time.
· Bread falls during baking? Too much liquid. Use less next time. Usually only happens when using a bread machine. When making bread by hand, you’ll know if there’s too much liquid, because the dough will be sticky.
For more information:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Trouble with Tuscany

No, not the city -- I'm talking about our llama. Maybe the llamas didn't think they were getting enough attention on the blog lately, but last week was a little too exciting for my taste. First, Big Mama and Little Man figure out how to squeeze through the goat door to get into the goat stall. Then Katy surprises us with her new baby. And then the boys had to get in on the act. Saturday, during our Open Farm Day, one of the visitors asked what was wrong with the white llama. At first I thought they meant the baby, but when I looked into the pasture, I saw Tuscany standing on three legs. His right, front leg was bloody.

Mike and I went into the pasture with a pan of grain and a lead rope, and then we realized that Tuscany was standing in the middle of the dung pile. Unlike most animals, llamas don't just let it drop when they get the urge. They always go back to the same spot to do their business. We thought, no problem, he'll come to us when he sees that we have grain. Nope! He was staying right there in that pile of dung. So, we walked up to him with the pan of grain, smooshing llama berries under our shoes, and Mike clipped the lead rope onto Tuscany's halter. But he wouldn't move. First, I pulled. Mike pushed. Then we switched placed. Mike pulled on the lead rope, while I pushed on his back end. It was a slow process, but we eventually got him into the barn.

And do you think that llamas like to have their legs examined? No, of course not. The way that llamas look at you, it's like they're thinking, "You are a mere human. I am a llama. You should feel honored to be allowed in my presence." The last thing Tuscany would want to do is stand there and let me look at his injured leg. Mike was holding the lead rope, and I foolishly put my head down towards the llama's injured leg. He smacked his head down on top of mine. Ouch! Instant headache!

I thought Mike was holding the lead rope tightly enough, but obviously not. So, we tied the lead rope up high enough that Tuscany couldn't whack me again with his head. Mike tried to hold him tightly against the wall, but that didn't work very well either. I squirted hydrogen peroxide on the bloody part of his leg, which was right on the knee. He kept jerking his leg away, so a lot of peroxide was squirted into nowhere as I worked to get his leg cleaned up. I used gauze pads to dab at the injured area. Finally, I got a glimpse of the injury. Puncture wounds. There were definitely three. There might have been a fourth, but since my patient was so impatient, I didn't get a great look. I sprayed some of my homemade fly spray on it, because the last thing I ever want to see again is maggots.

A couple hours later, I had an epiphany. Llamas are induced ovulators, which means they can get pregnant pretty much any time. I realized that Little Man needed to be moved out of the pasture where Katy and the baby are living. Perfect timing -- we'll put Little Man in the barn to keep Tuscany company. But apparently it just was not the same for anyone. Dolce was in the middle pasture staring at the barn, missing Tuscany. Big Mama was standing next to the barn, staring at her baby in the window. Little Man was in the barn whimpering.

And apparently Tuscany was not as content as he seemed, because Monday I looked out into the pasture to see him galloping across the grass. My first vision was a busted barn door. Then I came to my senses. We're talking about a very small llama here. He's probably not more than two hundred pounds. But could he really fit through the window? And would he really try? When I went to the barn to check it out, I discovered that the answer to both questions was obviously yes!

So, the good news is that his leg appears to be as good as new. Now, I hope the llamas have had enough excitement for a few months. I know I have!

But there is the question of the puncture wounds on Tuscany's leg. Only one thing comes to mind -- coyotes. Well, the llamas are here to guard the animals from coyotes. I know they've stopped several coyote attacks in progress, and I'm sure they've stopped coyotes before they had a chance to attack. Knowing what a hostile environment we were bringing them into two years ago, I was surprised they survived the first week. One injury in two years is not bad. Still, I hope Tuscany learned enough to avoid getting hurt again.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Baby llama surprise!

One-day old
Friday around noon, I was sitting at my computer, which is in front of a window overlooking the barn pasture. I don't even remember what I was doing, but I gazed out into the pasture like I do a hundred times a day, and I saw something moving. It was not any of the usual animals that live in that pasture. Then it clicked. I gasped and shrieked, "Oh, my God!" I guess I sounded pretty panicked, because Mike came running from the kitchen. I repeated myself a few times, and he kept asking, "What? What?" as he ran into the library.

I pointed out the window, gasping and shrieking, "Baby! Baby! Baby!"

"Baby?" he asked. "What baby? Who had a baby?"

"Llama! Llama!" And then in a stroke of real genius, I was able to put two words together and say, "Llama baby! Llama baby! September! It's September!" You would have thought that I'd never seen a baby before.

Two-days old
Eleven months gestation is a long time to wait, and to complicate things more, there is a 20 day window in which llamas can give birth, kind of like humans, rather than the convenient five-day window that most goats birth within. So, although I knew Katy was due in September, it still meant a lot of waiting and uncertainty.

I ran to the door, pulled on my shoes, and ran to the pasture. As I got closer to the llamas, I slowed down so as not to scare Katy. I sat down under a tree and just watched the little llama wobbling around. Since llama males don't have family jewels that hang down like a lot mammals, I looked under his belly to see if it was flat or if there was a ________. (If I write the real words, the comment section will be filled with spam.) I finally got a good view of the belly and realized it was a boy! He was mostly dry, and I saw the placenta on the ground a few feet away, so he'd been with us for a few hours already. His hind legs were very weak and kept crossing each other, and he was falling down a lot, which worried me. We've never had such a long-legged baby before, so maybe it was normal. His legs were twice the length of his body.

Nursing at two days
I emailed a couple of llama breeders asking questions about what was normal and what was not, and later in the day, our neighbors (four miles in the country counts as neighbors) who raise alpacas came by to give their opinion. Everyone agreed that his hind legs were probably just crooked and weak because he'd been in a bad position inside mom, and within a few days they'd straighten out.

As of this morning, they are definitely stronger, but the right rear leg still bends inward some. Katy's breeder said that the little guy will  probably be fine, and if his hind leg isn't perfectly straight, he won't be the only llama with imperfect hind legs. She makes a good point! He has no trouble running around, so I should stop worrying.

Now, the next big thing is to come up with a name! Any suggestions? His mom is Katydid, and his father is Dolce & Gabbana, but I already have goat lines named after designers and insects, so don't know where to go with that one. He'll grow up to be a flock or herd guardian here, so maybe we could name him after a knight or someone like that? Llamas are from South America, so maybe something Spanish? Maybe a Peruvian city? He looks like he's wearing biker pants if you look at him from one side. He's mostly black and white with one brown spot on his back. I'm not coming up with anything. Help!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Big weekend for llamas

It's been a very busy weekend for the llamas. Friday, Katy gave birth to a beautiful black and white boy, and Saturday in the middle of our Open Farm Day, someone noticed that Tuscany was walking on three legs. When we brought him into the barn, we realized he had three or four puncture wounds on the joint of his front right leg, so he probably had been in a scuffle with a coyote. On Monday, I'll tell you all about the new cria -- with photos -- and on Tuesday, I'll give you more on Tuscany's injury and how he's doing, but we're still in the middle of a very busy weekend, so I'll leave you with this photo of three of the does and Big Mama llama.

Left to right, the does are Annie, Scandal, and Lizzie. I think they may have been feeling a little ignored the past few days, because this morning when I was out in the pasture taking pictures of the new baby llama, they set themselves up in this picture-perfect pose for me!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Baking bread

A week from today, I'll be in Pennsylvania at the Mother Earth News Fair, and baking bread is one of the things I'll be talking about. I've been baking bread for more than twenty years. Mike and I started in Orlando when our oldest was a baby. Back then we did it all by hand. After my second was born, I got a bread machine. And a couple years ago, I bought a Kitchen Aid stand mixer with a dough hook. Although I've done it a variety of ways, the fact is that I keep doing it year after year. So, it recently occurred to me that I might not be able to identify with my audience members very well. I am thinking that quite a few of them don't bake bread, which is why they're attending my session.

So, I need your help! Why don't you bake bread? Or, why don't you bake bread more often? Do you not have enough time, or is there something intimidating about baking bread? Have you had any bad experiences? Put your questions in the comment section, and I promise that as I'm preparing my material for the conference, I'll answer your questions on the blog. And if you do bake bread regularly (or semi-regularly), what got you started, and what keeps you going?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Linguine update -- the not-so-blind goat

 Linguine at three weeks of age
Back in early May, a kid was born who appeared to be blind. We had to bottle-feed him, because lack of vision was not his only problem. With time, he grew stronger, and he appeared to have some vision. When we first moved him from his laundry basket in the house to a pen in the barn, he would lay down with no regard to where he was facing. Generally, goats always have their back to the wall, so they can see what's going on, but not Linguine. We'd often see him laying in the straw facing the wall.

It took him almost a month to start grabbing the bottle, even if we rubbed the nipple against his lips. When he was two months old, we'd take him out of his pen and go walking with him. He would follow along fine, as long as we were not more than a couple feet away from him. If he got interested in something and stopped to smell the roses, and we kept walking, he'd be screaming. When Katherine took him walking, she's loudly shuffle her feet in the gravel driveway, which seemed to help him keep up with her. We finally figured that he was incredibly near sighted and couldn't see beyond a few feet. But that was better than being completely blind. Still, what could I do with a goat that was less than perfect? I didn't feel that I could sell him, and I didn't want to give him to some stranger, who might then eat him or take him to a sale barn to make a few bucks.

In July, one of my blog readers purchased a buckling who needed a wethered companion, and when her children met Linguine, it was true love. Well, who wouldn't love a little goat that wants to stick to you like glue? Knowing the family, I felt comfortable giving him to them. And seeing how much the children loved him, I knew he'd have a good home.

I recently received an update from Linguine's new owner. She said that he's doing well, and she thinks his vision is continuing to improve, which is really great news!

To read the story of Linguine's first few days, click here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Homemade coffee creamer

Someone recently asked me if I've always been concerned about nutrition. Yeah, people ask me that question a lot, but this time I happened to think about the fact that I used to love that fake coffee creamer in the store -- you know the French vanilla and all of those other flavors. And I loved it a lot, meaning that I put a lot of it in my coffee.

Now, I would not call this a "health food" or even a healthy alternative, but it is all natural. I won't be putting this in my coffee every day, but I'll probably make it a few times a year for a special treat. It's a dulce de leche coffee creamer -- or caramel.

This recipe might look familiar to some of you:

2 quarts goat milk
2 cups sugar
1/2 t. baking soda

Yes, it's the same ingredients as many cajeta recipes. Put it on the stove and start boiling gently. After four to six hours, it will look like this. You can call it creamer whenever it suits your fancy. I think it's just perfect when it's reduced slightly more than half of its original volume. In this particular case, I doubled the recipe to one gallon of milk and cooked it down to two quarts of creamer. Don't worry about getting it just right. If you don't boil it down enough, you'll just use more of it in your coffee. If you boil it down too much, then you won't need as much. If you boil it down way too much, then you'll have a great caramel sauce for dipping apples or putting on ice cream. You really can't fail with this one.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I have a cold. It's not a big deal, but when I'm not at a hundred percent performance, I prefer that life include no surprises. Since I get sick only once a year or so, I don't think I'm asking for much, am I?

Tuesday morning I was milking the goats and trying to work up the nerve to use the neti pot that I bought last winter. I had finished milking my last goat (Ethel, as usual), and when I opened the milking parlor door to let her out, I didn't see any goats, which is unusual, but I thought that someone upstairs really likes me, because I don't have to chase the goats out of the barn this morning. Not so fast!
As I took Ethel by the collar and started to lead her towards the little goat door, I thought, oh, there's the llamas. Stop! What? Llamas? In here? How could llamas get in here? Llamas are six feet tall. Do you see that tiny little door that's only a couple feet high? It's just perfect for the Nigerian dwarf goats to go through. And yeah, last fall, we discovered that the dexter heifers fit through it also. But they're short. We do not call this llama Big Mama to be funny or sarcastic. She is big!

I completely forgot about Ethel and headed for the house to get Jonathan. I was not going to attempt this on my own. When Jonathan and I got back out there, I decided to lead Little Man outside (through the normal doors that llamas and human are meant to walk through) and hope that Big Mama follows. But Katy was sticking her long neck through the little door and eating the goat minerals and baking soda, so I thought it might be smart to refill the llama mineral feeder in their shelter so that after I moved the first two llamas out, I would not come back inside to find Katy had come into the barn.

It didn't exactly go the way I planned. I took the llama minerals out there, and Katy didn't seem to care, so she stayed by the little goat door. Getting a lead rope on Little Man went well, and Big Mama followed until we got to the barn door. Then she went galloping across the front yard! Jonathan tried to cut her off, waving his long arms to get her to turn around and head back to the pasture where I'd taken Little Man. They did this merry-go-round thing around one of the cars for a couple minutes, where she'd go to one side, and Jonathan would cut her off, so she'd go to the other side, and he'd cut her off there. I don't know what I would have done if this happened on a day when I was home alone. Hopefully I would have been smart enough to not attempt moving them without haltering both llamas. She finally came running to the gate I'd left open as I moved farther into the pasture, hoping that made her feel less pressure from me. Maybe it worked, or maybe she was worried that I was taking away her baby, even though he's not much of a baby any longer.

Now we must remember to only open that little door when we are letting goats in or out. I find it interesting that the cows went through the door only minutes after seeing it, but it took the llamas two or three months to do it.

Wednesday is my solo day on the homestead this semester, so I am really hoping for no more surprises. And I still haven't worked up the nerve to try that neti pot.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Canning pizza sauce

We took forty-four pounds of tomatoes from the garden . . .

and turned them into eight pints of pizza sauce!

One pint of this sauce, which is very thick, will make four pizzas, so the eight pints will last us about four months. We make homemade pizza every Friday night to eat while watching a movie. I hope we have enough tomatoes left in the garden to make more, because I'd love to have this sauce available to us for the whole year. The only possible snafu is that we need to have about 45 pounds of tomatoes ripen on the same day. I'm not sure that will happen again this year.

We used the Seasoned Tomato Sauce recipe from the 1999 Ball Blue Book, which is where I get almost all of my canning recipes, along with the 2005 and 2009 editions. We left out the onions, because we've already used all the onions we grew in the garden this year. Plus, we can just put fresh onions on the pizza if we want them. We also left out the bay leaf and sugar, because I just don't like the idea of either one in pizza sauce. We added fresh basil from our garden. When the sauce was the consistency of juice, we put a little in the blender with a bunch of fresh basil. (How's that for an exact measurement?) We also used our homegrown garlic.

Another change we made from the original recipe was to cook down the sauce to a third the original volume, instead of half, which the recipe called for. The recipe is for an all-purpose spaghetti, lasagna, and pizza sauce, but we don't like runny pizza sauce. That's the great thing about making your own food. You can customize it just the way you like!

Sorry my photos have been so blech lately. I've been using my cell phone to take photos. I need a new camera!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lost knowledge

I remember a poster from a long time ago that said, "As soon as I figure out all the answers, they change the questions!" That's what it's like living on a farm! I can't imagine that we will ever feel like we know what we are doing.

But I also think that people knew a lot more a hundred years ago than we do today when it comes to natural animal husbandry. After eight years, we thought we had pretty much figured out this whole turkey raising scenario. If we get them from a hatchery or hatch them in an incubator, we raise them in a brooder until they're old enough to go outside. Depending upon how cold it is, that would be around one or two months of age. If they're hatched by a turkey mama, we don't have to do anything, unless we want to ensure that she doesn't lose any, in which case we catch them all and put them in a portable poultry pen (also known as a chicken tractor). In any case, if mama hatches them, she keeps them warm and teaches them all they need to know about catching bugs, eating, drinking, flying, and other important turkey topics.

But what do you do when the babies start out with a turkey mama and she gets killed by a predator? As I said in my last blog post, I wasn't sure we did the right thing by catching the babies and putting them in the barn, although at only three weeks of age, they would have probably died from hypothermia that first night without their mama or a heat lamp to keep them warm. Unfortunately, all three died today. They never started eating or drinking. We tried sprinkling the grain on a white paper towel the way we do with newly hatched poults, but they totally ignored it, unlike younger ones who peck at it and then realize it tastes good. The level on the feeder never went down in two days. It never occurred to me to dip their beaks in water, because they've been drinking for three weeks already, haven't they?

I spent a lot of time the last two days watching the turkey mama with nine, one-week-old poults wandering around the yard. Baby turkeys in a natural setting are an amazing sight. They eat non-stop, pecking at everything. The mama never takes them to the chicken house to eat grain or drink water from the waterer. I was hoping that somehow I would figure out how to get the three orphaned turkeys to eat, but I didn't have any amazing revelations.

On the one hand, I was tempted to let them loose in the garden so they could eat and live in the environment to which they were accustomed. However, there was the issue of keeping warm. And considering how long it took us to catch the third poult -- and what a good flyer he was -- I was afraid we would never catch him again if we let them loose, even in the garden, which is fenced in. There are so many tall weeds and plants in there. They would have far too many places to hide.

I have a feeling that my Grandma Rosie would have known what to do in this situation, and if she didn't know, then one of her friends or neighbors would have known. A hundred years ago, all turkeys were free range and raised by their mama, unless there was some type of extraordinary circumstance -- like the mama was eaten by a predator. None of the books tell you what to do with orphaned turkeys, because almost no one today lets turkeys set on eggs and hatch poults. Knowledge of natural animal husbandry has mostly been lost.

A couple years ago, an Illinois extension agent called me in the middle of winter and said he was trying to find turkey poults. Did I have any? Extension agents are supposed to be experts in these types of things, yet this man had no idea that turkeys don't naturally lay eggs in the winter, which means you can't hatch eggs in the winter. My turkeys don't start laying eggs until April, and then they take 28 days to hatch after they're put in an incubator or the mama starts setting. However, the turkey mamas don't always get the urge to set that soon. As I mentioned, we just had a mama hatch nine poults a week ago. I am a bit worried about them surviving, because I'm not sure they'll be feathered out enough before it gets too cold.

One year we had a chicken hatch babies in October, and as they got bigger, they didn't all fit underneath her at night, and when we got a real cold spell in November, they all started dieing. Each morning, we'd find another one dead. I think it was probably the unlucky one who wound up on the edge of the huddle overnight.

But I digress. It is terribly frustrating to learn things through trial and error. So, whenever this happens again, what do we do? How do you convince a three-week-old bird to start eating grain when it's never eaten grain in its life? And of course, this just makes me question the whole issue of feeding grain to turkeys, because they eat so little (or none) when given the choice. I've suspected for a while that we (as in all modern Americans with turkeys) might be feeding more grain than would be natural, so that the weight gain is faster. But not knowing any centenarian farmers, I might have a hard time finding out how turkeys were raised a century ago.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Orphaned turkeys

It's not the big things in life that really stick with you sometimes. Little things can really get to you. And this would be one of those times.

Thursday afternoon I was walking from the barn to the house, and I saw three young poults pecking at the grass, but where was their mama? As I continued walking, I thought I'd see her behind some bushes. No, she wasn't behind the bushes. She wasn't behind the weeds. She wasn't across the lawn. I found myself circling around the poults, wondering where the mama turkey had gone. The three babies were sticking together foraging for food, just as I'd seen them doing for the three short weeks since they were hatched. But, there was no turkey mama.

"Mike!" I yelled across the yard to where he was putting together a movable turkey pen in front of the barn. "These baby turkeys don't seem to have their mama with them. Have you seen her?"

"No, they were wandering around by themselves this morning."

I remembered that every night she would snuggle up with the poults in the tall weeds next to the squash patch, so I walked over there to see if I could find her. The odd assortment of weeds were four to five feet tall, and as I moved them aside from the place I'd seen her last night, I gasped. Her long neck was stretched out on the ground in front of her body with her head laying on its side. One of her wings was fanned out unnaturally.

"Oh, no!" I gasped. "She's dead! I found her -- the mama turkey -- she's dead."

Mike came running over. He lifted her limp body and turned her over. One leg was stripped of meat, and the breast was bruised. What could have done this? We had no idea. The area is fenced, so it would have to be something fairly small to fit between the pickets across the front of our property. Our guard dog has been staying in this area almost all the time lately. Perhaps that's why she was not completely eaten?

"The babies! We have to catch the babies!" I screamed towards the house, "Jonathan! Jonathan! Come quick!" With the cooler days we've been having, the windows were all open, so I knew he would hear me. He stuck his head out the door. I called, "This mama turkey is dead. We have to catch the babies. I just saw them run into that flower bed. We have to catch them now!"

We forgot about the dead turkey laying in the grass as Mike, Jonathan, and I circled the flower bed in the middle of our front yard. The poults were hiding amongst the spent gladiolas, nasturtiums, and feverfew plants. Jonathan quickly snagged two of them, but the third proved to be a challenge. He ran from the flower bed into a patch of weeds around two hickory trees. I took the two poults from Jonathan and put them in a little dog crate in the barn. The three of us then spent fifteen minutes searching flower beds and weed patches trying to find the third one. Finally, I decided to bring the little dog crate into the yard, hoping the poults' chirping would attract the third one. It worked! Within five minutes, the last baby came running from the weeds near the hickories. He ran right past the chirping siblings in the dog crate and into the weeds next to the squash patch.

Finding a baby bird the size of a baseball in that patch of weeds would be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, so I suggested that Mike start pulling weeds in the area where we thought the poult had run. Remember, they're four to five feet tall. We were seeing and hearing nothing. Thirty minutes into our turkey rescue mission, we still had only the first two babies. I moved them closer to the tall weeds, but still sitting in the middle of an open area of cut lawn, and I went inside the house. I kept looking outside every few minutes, and about twenty minutes later, I finally saw the lone poult circling the little dog crate.

"Jonathan," I called to my son in the kitchen. "He's back!" We quickly came up with a plan for catching him, and we headed outside. We tried to keep weeds and trees and other obstacles between us and the poult, so he couldn't see us approaching. We were within a few feet when he saw us, and he made a bee-line to his dead mama. He tried to lift her wing with his little head and crawl to the safety of her breast, and that's when I wanted to cry. I've never seen an animal orphaned. He didn't understand that his mama was dead. Why didn't she lift her wing, so he could hide? Jonathan was on the ball and grabbed the little one just as he tried to run back into the weeds.

The three orphaned poults are a mix of heritage breeds.
We took all three into the barn and put them in a rabbit cage with food, water, and a heat lamp. The temperatures are getting into the 50s at night now, and they're not old enough to keep warm by themselves. But they are clearly not happy. They're trying to squeeze through the wire and are completely ignoring the food and water. As I watched them and coaxed them to calm down and eat, Mike reminded me that I had goats to milk. I couldn't watch the poults all night. Nor could I make them calm down or eat.

I'm worried though. I don't know that we've done any favors for the little ones. We once tried to save some guinea keets whose mama kept losing them, and they all died within a couple days. Birds visually imprint on their mama when they hatch, and they have a very hard time living without her. I don't think it's a simple matter of providing food, physical warmth, and protection. The little birds are accustomed to running around freely in the grass and eating bugs and being warmed by their mama's body. Now their whole world has changed.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Garden Review: Scalloped Squash

Scalloped Squash
My parents always had a garden when I was growing up. I don't mention this often, because people always assume that if your parents did something, you just soak up their knowledge through osmosis. Nope, doesn't work that way. I wish it did! It would have saved me twenty years of trial and error. But I digress. I'm not going to talk about my gardening woes today. I'm going to talk about scalloped squash. I've seen them in catalogs for years and always assumed it was just another name for patty pan squash, which my parents always had in their garden when I was growing up. My mother would slice it, bread it, and fry it, and I loved it. I've been growing patty pan squash for as long as we've been on Antiquity Oaks, but last winter when looking through the seed catalogs, something inspired me to order some scalloped squash seeds, which I quickly discovered is quite different from patty pan squash.

Patty pan squash are flatter, and they have a much smaller seed cavity. I kept picking the scalloped squash smaller and smaller, but regardless of how young I picked them, they still had a large seed cavity. Larger seed cavity means less flesh for eating. We're still saying that we're going to use the scalloped squash for stuffing, but we haven't done it yet. Unless we discover some really awesome way to cook these little darlings, they won't be in our garden again, regardless of how cute they look. When we don't eat something, it means we don't pick it, which means it just gets over-ripe and eventually gets fed to the chickens. And that just makes me feel guilty. And who needs that?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chickens and turkeys together?

Question: I noticed that you are raising chickens and turkeys. Do you do anything to protect from blackhead or have you never had any problems with it? Do you keep your flocks seperated...? I was thinking about adding turkeys to the mix but everything I have read says you can't keep them with chickens... but it seems like you should be able to.

Chickens, turkeys, and llamas check out
the overgrown and over-ripe squash that we gave them.
Answer: Although people ask all sorts of questions about our life out here, there are five or six questions that keep coming up again and again. The above question was just asked on Facebook, but I get emails through the website, people ask when they visit the farm, and others have also asked the question on the Antiquity Oaks Facebook page and right here on the blog.

The short answer is that yes, our turkeys and chickens live together, and no, we don't have any trouble with blackhead. Yes, I know that all the books tell you that your turkeys will contract blackhead from your chickens and die. I knew that before we decided to let them cohabitate, and yeah, I did it anyway -- just like I decided to raise the turkeys without drugs in their food and water, even though all the books also said they'd die without it.

All the books and antibiotics were not around a couple hundred years ago, and turkeys did not become extinct, so my theory is that we've lost some important knowledge about raising chickens and turkeys. When I was a little girl, I visited my grandparent's farm, and their chickens and turkeys ran around together.

Even though chickens can have blackhead, that does not mean that they do have blackhead. I only buy day-old poults from hatcheries that are certified free of all the common poultry diseases. I do not take in rescue chickens, unwanted roosters from backyard flocks, or any other adult chickens for any reason. I have no idea how common blackhead is among chickens, but I don't want to take any chances, because it's one of those diseases that chickens can carry without being sick themselves.

Another reason I feel comfortable with our chickens and turkeys living together is because they are not kept inside. They are free to roam across several acres, so instead of saying that each bird has one square foot of space, which is what those books tell you they need, our chickens and turkeys have hundreds of square feet of space per bird. So, if you want to keep your chickens and turkeys locked up in modern poultry housing, then it's probably not a good idea to have chickens and turkeys together, and you should probably be putting drugs in their water or giving them medicated feed. But, if you want to let them free range, then that changes things.

Another little fact you should know about heritage turkeys being given access to the outdoors is that they will often take full advantage of it and give in to their natural impulses -- which means roosting in trees. For years, we would rush out there near dusk to shoo the turkeys inside, so that they would not roost in trees. But after a few dozens times when we didn't get all of them inside, we realized that we were just giving ourselves an unnecessary job. It's never been a problem, even in the dead of winter when we have snow and ice, so I don't sweat it any longer.

There is no fool-proof method of raising chickens, turkeys, or any livestock. There will be drawbacks to every method chosen. Modern ag doesn't free-range poultry because it's too labor intensive, takes up too much real estate, and would include losses to predators, which would all reduce their bottom line. But my bottom line isn't about dollars and cents; it's about good food and getting a good night's sleep, knowing that my animals are healthy and happy, running, flying, eating bugs, and doing all the things that birds have done since the beginning of time.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Garden-fresh salsa

The simplest things are often the best. I've learned this lesson over and over again out here. I used to think that I needed to have a recipe for everything I cooked, other than the most basic dishes. For several years, I tried a variety of salsa recipes, but never was excited about any of them. Then one day several years ago, one of my daughters (probably the oldest, but I don't remember exactly) just chopped up a bunch of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers, sprinkled on a little salt and started dipping. That was the end of my search for salsa recipes.

As Alice Walker says in her books, the key to good food is to start with the freshest ingredients. If you start with a bunch of tomatoes that were picked green and gassed to turn red, your salsa won't taste very good. But when you start with vine-ripened tomatoes fresh from the garden, the response is, "Mmmm!"

This particular salsa was made with a few red tomatoes, a couple of orange banana tomatoes, and a few green zebra tomatoes, which creates the beautiful rainbow of colors. We're already out of red onions, so Katherine snipped some of our green onions for this particular batch of salsa. And we all agreed she went a little overboard with the peppers this time by chopping up three fresh jalapeƱos, but we all kept going back for more as soon as our mouth recovered.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Garden Review: Chervena Chuska Pepper

This is the first in a series of reviews I'm planning to write on the different varieties of fruits and vegetables we planted in our garden this year.

Every year I like to try a few new varieties of vegetables in the garden, and when I read the Seed Saver description of the Chervena Chuska pepper, I had to try it! We love sweet peppers, and I was especially happy to read that this one grows so well at the Seed Saver farm in Iowa, which is only a few hours west of us. Usually, if it grows there, it will grow here.

We were in for quite a surprise! We love the pepper, even though it does not fit the catalog's description as sweet as candy. We really like it on pizza, and I'm planning to try stuffing it. If we had more than one plant (rabbits ate the rest), I think they would make great canned pimentos.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Book review: The Field Guide to Goats

The following review will be printed in the fall issue of Ruminations, my favorite goat magazine. If you've been thinking of subscribing to a goat magazine, I highly recommend it, because I learn something new from every issue!

There are plenty of beautiful photographs in "The Field Guide to Goats" by Cheryl Kimball. Beyond that, this book is sadly a waste of paper. As a writer myself, it is not easy to write a bad review, but given the choice between no book and this book, I'd recommend you buy nothing, because this one is filled with misinformation.

While I certainly do not expect all goat breeders to agree on the finer points of feeding, housing, and veterinary care, there are many things we do agree upon. Kimball, unfortunately gets a lot of basic information incorrect, such as the breed standard for Nigerian dwarves, which she says are supposed to be 17 to 19 inches in height for does. She also says, "Oberhasli goats are typically raised for meat," although she has them listed in the dairy section.

It was especially frustrating that she said, "A benefit to breeding dwarf goats for milk production is that they breed year-round, allowing a breeder to get three kiddings in two years." If a breeder really wants milk, why would they waste 15 months of 24 on pregnancy? Any serious dairy goat person would want goats that milk 10 months or longer. She goes on to say, "This gives the doe about a six-month break between pregnancies, while providing almost year-round milk production." A six-month break from what? How can you have year-round milk production when a goat is pregnant so much? How would anyone ever have a 305-day milk test? It always bothers me when I see it written that a Nigerian can be bred three times in two years, because all she is doing is feeding kids when she is bred that often.

There is also a wealth of contradictory information. In the section on Nigerian dwarf goats, it says they can be registered with AGS, CGS, and IDGR, but in a photo caption 55 pages later, it says that they are one of eight dairy breeds recognized by ADGA. Does she not realize that means that they are registered by ADGA?

Although she says, "Some goat breeds are naturally polled, which means that members of that breed will never have horns," she never tells you which breeds are polled. Fact: Although there are polled goats in a variety of breeds, there are no breeds with exclusively polled goats, because most people believe that breeding polled to polled has a high rate of hermaphrodites. She goes on to say, "Other breeds are hit or miss: Some will grow horns, and some will not." It is very hard to believe that Kimball is a certified veterinary technician, because there is very clear science behind whether or not a goat will be polled. If you breed two horned goats, the kid will grow horns. One parent must be polled to have a polled kid, which will then happen 50 percent of the time.

Some of the advice in the book could lead to a world of headaches, such as, "Goats will respect electric fencing." Other advice could lead to needless worry, such as the "Black Walnut" section, which says, "This plant has been known to kill animals even when it accidentally ends up in bedding." Perhaps she is thinking of horses? My goats live in a black walnut grove, and most herbal dewormers for goats include black walnut hulls.

And yet other advice could cause confusion, frustration, and the death of an animal. She says, "Grain is beneficial to male goats for several reasons," but only lists two (breeding season for bucks and weight gain for meat wethers). She says that they should have grain with ammonium chloride in it to avoid urinary calculi. It does not appear that she is aware that too much grain is what actually causes urinary calculi, or that ammonium chloride is available as a supplement.

This is only a small sample of the misinformation in this book. Do not assume that the author's veterinary background means that the veterinary info in the book is correct, because much of it is also inaccurate.

It was especially frustrating to me when I learned that the author owns a single Oberhasli wether as a pet. This might be why she never mentions the importance of having more than one goat. As herd animals, they need another goat friend for mental and physical health. I will not sell a single goat to anyone unless they already have goats, because I want my goats to be happy and healthy.

The author's lack of real-world goat experience would also explain why she does not understand so many things that seem simple to those of us who have goats, such as goat shows. She mentions the USDA as a place to learn goat showmanship, and refers to the "USDA scorecard to get an idea of what the judge looks for in a show animal." The sample scorecard says it is used at ADGA-sanctioned shows but credits the American Dairy Association.

Ultimately, the publisher is the one to blame for bringing this book to print. They chose an author who has no more authority to write a goat book than I do to write a book on horses. I have a retired old horse who lives here as a pasture ornament. With so many knowledgeable goat people in the world who know how to write, it is sad that the publisher chose a person with a single pet goat to write a book on the subject.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Something's gotta give

At least, that's the phrase that kept going through my head when I collapsed into bed last night after an exhausting and lonely day on the homestead. Mike was teaching, and the kids were at school from early morning until well after sundown. Jonathan and Katherine are taking classes at the same junior college where Mike works, so they share a ride most days, which means there are some days this semester when it's just little ol' me out here taking care of everything.

Yesterday was complicated by the fact that the barn needed to be mucked out, and I did a bunch of little things that usually get put off until "later." When the chores around here are split up between four people, it's really not a lot of work. But when the work of four people must be done by one, it's a completely different story. Everyone's regular chores take me about two hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. And then I have to make cheese and do whatever additional work needs to be done on any particular day. Yesterday, I spent about nine hours working outside, and I didn't even look at the garden.

I kept telling myself that I'd take care of the garden today when Mike and Margaret are home. Well, Mike has off-farm errands that have taken him away all afternoon, and Margaret doesn't have time to come home for the day from U of I. She doesn't have any Thursday classes this semester, so was hoping to come home to help with the tomato harvest, since she loves fresh salsa. So, I have to get out to the garden today and take care of whatever needs attention. I'm afraid there are a number of things that are overdue -- okra, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, just to name a few off the top of my head.

As we move into fall, things will get a little easier, because there will be less to do. But if I have many more days like yesterday, I will seriously be looking at what can be eliminated from the homestead. After eight years, I thought we pretty much had everything under control, but then I remembered that the only thing that's constant is change.


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