Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Farewell, Anne

 Anne and her triplets last year:
The little white-faced doe hiding between her mama
and sibling is Agnes Grey, who still lives here.
Yesterday we were milking 13 goats; today it is 12. It is amazing how quickly life can change. When Katherine brought in the milk yesterday morning, she said it was less than usual. She didn't think she had missed Anne, but her udder was empty. For whatever reason, we both assumed Katherine had lost track. Although I check off goats on a white board as I milk them, she doesn't. So, neither of us thought that something might be wrong with Anne. Yesterday evening, shortly before six, as I was proofreading the galleys for Homegrown and Handmade on my computer, I heard the sound of a goat in distress. I called to Katherine to go check on the does.

Half an hour later, Anne left us as she thrashed around in Katherine's lap, screaming in pain. I had little hope from the time that we brought her into the barn, but I had some hope. I'd never before seen a goat so bloated and with a bloody discharge leaking from her rectum. Her body temperature had already fallen to well below normal. The inside of her mouth felt like a glass of cool water.

I called the vet hospital at U of I, but I couldn't understand anything the vet was saying because he had such a thick accent. Finally I asked, "Clostridium?" And he said yes, she had all the symptoms. He went on, I suppose telling me what I should do, but I couldn't understand any of it. I knew the prognosis was somewhere between terrible and hopeless. I didn't think she would survive the two hour trip to the university vet hospital. I knew she needed antitoxin. I did a quick online search and checked both of the vet textbooks that I have. They also suggested antibiotics, a baking soda drench, and B vitamins. I was gathering up those supplies to head outside and at least get started, but when I opened the front door, I saw Katherine walking towards the house with her head down. I watched her walk a few more steps and finally asked, "Is she still alive?" Katherine said, "No," and started crying.

All last night I kept trying to figure out what had made her sick. The literature says that enterotoxemia is usually caused by some sort of digestive disturbance, such as a change in feed or over-consumption of grain -- basically, something throws off the digestive system. But what? We hadn't changed the diet. No one had busted into the chicken grain or the hog feed. Then this morning I got a hint. I was heading out to the barn to milk, and Mike was about to put cut grass into the hay feeders. I stood next to the little hay wagon and felt heat. I reached over and lifted the grass, and it was quite warm in the pile. Then it clicked. I remembered our apprentice asking Mike a couple days ago if it was okay to give the grass to the goats because it had heated up. Mike sniffed it and said it was fine. I had not thought about what process might be taking place if the hay were piled up while still green. Something was happening to it because it was quite warm at the center of the pile.

"Don't give this to the goats," I blurted. Mike looked at me, annoyed. "I think this is what made Anne sick. It's hot. That means something is happening to it. Even if smells okay, there could be some kind of toxins growing in here."

We've been giving the goats freshly cut grass all summer, but the past few days, we've been getting ahead of ourselves with cutting, filling the little hay wagon, and filling the hay feeders. Who would have ever thought that we could be overly efficient? The cut grass should have been staying on the ground to dry until minutes before being taken to the barn and being eaten.

As Mike started pulling the grass out of the hay feeders, I went into the milking parlor to milk the goats. I tried not to beat myself up, but it's hard. I can go round and round in my head, especially when it's just me and a goat. Anyone who milks goats will tell you that a lot of thinking goes on when you're milking. Anne was one of the special ones. She's the only daughter we ever had out of Mercury, the son of my first milk goat, Star. Her dam is Sherri, my favorite brood doe, and my top milker for several years. I've kept four of Sherri's daughters, all of which earned their milk stars. Anne was my highest producer last year, milking 627 pounds, which won't break any records in the rest of the world, but it made her really special here.

Anne as a yearling
But what I loved the most about Anne was that she proved it was possible for a goat to be bonded to her mama like glue, yet incredibly friendly with people. She was one of those goats that would wrap her neck around yours and give you a goaty hug.

Every time I milked one of the goats this morning and checked her name off my list, I knew there was one goat whose name would not be checked off. I told myself I should erase Anne's name from the list, so I wouldn't confuse myself about how many goats were left to milk. No, that's silly. I know I only have 12 to milk this morning. After milking the last goat, I erased Anne's name. And, then I sat down and cried.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Classes and Open Farm Day tomorrow

Saturday will be the second Open Farm Day of 2011. From 2 to 6 p.m. visitors can meet the animals, check out the garden, and pick our brains about what we do and why we do it. Mike will be scything, and we'll probably be skirting sheep fleeces, so you can see what a raw fleece looks like. We have goat milk soap available for purchase, as well as raw fleeces, roving, and yarn from our sheep and llamas. Although the Open Farm Day is free and you can plan the day however you want, there are also three classes available for those who want in-depth instruction and information about the home dairy, soapmaking, and homesteading.

10 a.m. to noon The Home Dairy
We'll start in the barn with instructions in goat milking, and we'll talk about how it's different than milking a cow or a sheep (and how their milk is different). Then we'll head into the kitchen to talk about the history of dairy in this country and demonstrate how to make a variety of dairy products, such as chevre, mozzarella, yogurt, and buttermilk.
Fee: $24 per person, and reservations are required. Class is limited to six people, so there will be ample opportunity for discussion.

1 to 3 p.m. Soapmaking
You'll learn the history of soapmaking, how modern soapmaking is different, and how to create your own soap recipes. Watch every step of cold-process soapmaking from start to finish. Each participant will receive handouts, including a list of references for future use, and you'll go home with a small loaf of soap (retail value $28) that you can slice a day or two later after saponification is complete.
Fee: $32 per person, and reservations are required. Class is limited to six people, so everyone will receive personalized instruction.

6 to 8 p.m. Homesteading 101
So, you think you’d like to live in the country, grow your own vegetables, milk goats, and raise chickens? We’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a homesteading lifestyle, and we’ll talk about the practicalities of choosing land, building a house, choosing livestock to fit your lifestyle, and learning new skills, such as gardening and animal husbandry. Then, join us for evening chores as we discuss the basic care of different animals that live on Antiquity Oaks and how each one fits into a sustainable homestead. Arrive a little early and bring a picnic supper to enjoy on the deck or under an oak tree.
Fee: $15 per person or $25 per couple, and reservations are required. Class is limited to eight people, so there will be ample opportunity for discussion.

We'll also have potluck meals at noon and 5 p.m., if you'd like to join us!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Llama shearing

Sorry I haven't posted in a week! The good news is that the garden is really shaping up, and we're making cheese daily. Our summer apprentice arrived on Monday, and it has been a lot of work helping him around the farm. We always spend a lot of time explaining things in the beginning, which is why we won't let people come out for a day to "help" anymore. We realized we got very little done on those days.

Yesterday was llama shearing day, which happens once a year. We did it later than usual this year because the cold weather kept coming back until about a month ago. Everyone was very well behaved, except for Merlin, who always spits. He actually spit less this year than he did a couple years ago.

These are the lady llamas relaxing before their spa day . . .

The llamas are put in a chute so they can't freak out and trample anyone. This is Sitara ready for shearing . . .

This is Tuscany before shearing . . .

And this is Tuscany and Dolce after shearing. I don't think I will ever get accustomed to how much smaller they are after shearing.

 Now the work begins for us as we have to wash the fiber and get it ready for carding and spinning.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bridget's calf -- take two!

Yes, Bridget the Irish Dexter gave birth back in March, but Margaret just edited the video footage that I took. If you've ever wondered what a normal birth is like for a cow, here you go.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Turkey rescue

One of the pigs on this side of the fence.
La mancha goats grazing on the other side.
Last week we decided to put the milk goats behind the house so they could graze around the pond. That meant putting up the portable electric fencing. About an hour after the job was completed, we saw a turkey hen frantically pacing back and forth on the pond side of the fencing. Mike realized it was the turkey hen that had been setting on a nest by the garden. A setting hen will leave the nest once a day to eat and drink, and apparently Mike had put up the fencing while the hen was in the chicken house having breakfast.

Mike and Margaret (still home from U of I until her summer class starts next week) went out there to help the turkey hen get back to her nest so she could continue setting and hatch her brood. They hoped to either catch her or at last scare her enough so that she would fly over the fence. Neither of those things happened. When they tried to catch her, she did get scared and fly -- but in the opposite direction of the fencing, which landed her right in the pond!

Perhaps like me, you've always assumed that turkeys can't swim. Well, although they don't exactly swim, they don't sink either. She was just floating in the pond. Mike mumbled a couple of words that I won't repeat and said he needed to get his chest waders. A couple of minutes later, he was walking into the pond. We hadn't noticed yet, but Julia the pig had been watching the whole show, and when Mike started walking into the pond, she followed him. She was walking, walking, walking, and then she went swoosh and was under water. I was laughing too hard to get a picture as she took a turn to the right and started walking back up the bank of the pond. As she came up from the water, a sheet of algae settled on top of her head and back, and Margaret and I laughed hysterically as she looked like a sea monster emerging from the pond. Mike had been concentrating on the turkey and had no idea Julia was following him, so he was rather confused about why Margaret and I were laughing hard enough to injure ourselves.

It all had a happy ending as Julia managed to rid herself of the algae, and Mike placed the turkey hen on the opposite side of the fence so she could get back to setting on her nest.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A new predator

When I was doing chores Tuesday night, I discovered that the setting goose was gone and so were all of her eggs. I couldn't even find an egg shell. What kind of predator could have taken her without leaving any feathers? And what could eat eggs without leaving any shells? I mentioned it on the Antiquity Oaks Facebook page, and a few people offered guesses. A snake seemed the most likely egg thief because they do swallow eggs whole, but I couldn't figure out who could have taken the goose. The area is fenced, but I supposed some might have forgotten and left a gate open at some point.

Wednesday was one of those days that felt like a week. I woke up knowing that the final draft of my book would be waiting in my inbox. I'd be spending the whole day giving it one final read before giving the thumb's up for it to be put into book form. Talk about nerve wracking!

I was sitting at the computer, which is in front of a window overlooking the barnyard, and I heard our livestock guardian dog barking viciously. He was standing at the fence of the goat pasture looking towards the chicken house. I turned towards the chicken house and saw something large and gray on the other side of the fence. After a few seconds, I screamed, "Coyote! Coyote!" Mike ran to get a gun from upstairs but the coyote disappeared down the hill. Mike went running after it as I started to process what I'd seen. It was huge -- much taller than the chickens. Coyotes are only 40 pounds. It was very gray. Coyotes are more brown-gray-reddish. Could it have been a wolf?

When Mike got back, he started talking about how big the coyote was -- at least twice as big as any coyote he'd seen before. I asked if he thought it could have been a wolf, and to my surprise -- because he is always Mr. Cool -- he said yes. I googled "wolves in Illinois" and read an article in the Chicago Tribune that said a wolf siting was confirmed about 60 miles from here in March. Not good. We have two dogs, six llamas, and guns, but llamas are not effective guardians against wolves, only coyotes. The dogs can't be in every pasture every minute of every day and neither can we.

But I didn't have time to think about the predator because I had to finish reading my manuscript. So, while everyone else decided to spend a lot of time near the chicken house, I got back to work on my computer. We haven't seen the predator again, and as far as we know, we haven't lost any more animals. But if we've learned anything out here, it's that coyotes don't go far if they think there is a free meal to be had. I read that wolves will range over hundreds of miles, so maybe it would be lucky if this is a wolf. Maybe he'll move on?


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