Sunday, May 20, 2012

Birth and death and life goes on

The chaos has continued ever since my last post. We've had babies popping up everywhere -- lambs, kids, chicks, and "babies" hatched by a turkey! I took a quick trip to Wisconsin to talk about wool on The Morning Blend, as well as give a "Natural Home Dairy" lecture at University of Wisconsin-Parkside and a bread demonstration at the Chicago Green Festival. I'm also in the home stretch of edits for my next book, and my baby graduated from Joliet Junior College with high honors. And life has not been without its challenges as we had a brutal coyote attack, and two of our milk goats have taken ill. If you ask me anything about what I've done in the past two weeks, I have to look at my planner to tell you!

I am truly hoping I can find time in the next couple weeks to give a proper accounting of all that's been happening, but in the meantime, here's the short version. The funniest thing was when we thought the turkey hen had hatched poults. We saw her standing next to the pond, and the babies were getting into the water and getting wet, which is very bad! Baby turkeys could easily get chilled, so Mike went running out there to get them away from the pond, but the silly things just kept running farther into the water, so he backed off. Turns out the babies were ducklings! We actually thought this might work for us because whenever a duck hatches babies, she takes them into the pond, where they get eaten by turtles or big mouth bass. We hoped that the ducklings would stay close enough to shore that the pond monsters wouldn't be able to eat them, but that has not been the case. Mama Turkey started with three ducklings and is down to only one now.

She really threw a monkey wrench into our plans by sitting on duck eggs. It never occurred to us that we needed to be checking up on her to see that she was actually sitting on turkey eggs. We are not aware of any other turkeys sitting on eggs, and we have not even found any turkey eggs that we could put into the incubator, so I've just ordered some poults from a hatchery. This is especially disappointing because I kept three hens from last year, and none of them appear to be doing anything remotely related to motherhood. The turkey hen that hatched the ducklings is four or five years old, so maybe she's going through eggopause but still had the urge to be a mama and was just lucky enough to find a bunch of duck eggs. I wish I knew!

Cheyenne and two ewe lambs
We are up to eleven lambs so far, although I don't have an exact number on rams and ewes. Since the coyote attack, the sheep have been extremely high strung, so we can't even get within 20 feet of them before they freak out and just start running. And about that coyote attack -- when we were gone to my baby's graduation, a pack attacked Minerva, who was very pregnant and due at any moment. It makes me sick thinking that she might have been in labor when they attacked her, which is why she was vulnerable and couldn't get away. This is the first time we've lost a sheep since we got the llamas in 2008. And if you were reading my blog back then, you know we had a terrible problem! We lost nine of our ten lambs to coyotes in the summer and fall of 2007 and heading into 2008, so we know that once a pack thinks the buffet is open, we have to get very serious. We've moved the sheep into a pasture that is fully enclosed with woven wire. They had been in an area that was open to the creek, which is probably how the coyotes got to them.

The month actually started off with two of our goats giving birth. Jane, a yearling, gave birth to quads, and Pearl gave birth to twins. Our luck with does this year continues as there is only one buckling out of the six. Just remember that we had 29 bucklings last year, so don't think that we're that lucky! I really have to write a separate blog post about the goat births because it was utter chaos with the two of them giving birth only about ten minutes apart, but both screaming and pushing at the same time!

The two ill milk goats are doing okay. On Wednesday, Katherine came in from milking to say that Annie didn't have any milk. Huh? She was making three pounds a day (a quart and a half) the day before. I have only ever had two goats suddenly stop producing milk, and in both cases, they were dead within 12 hours, so I wasn't about to waste time with Annie. I rushed her down to the University of Illinois vet clinic. They ran every blood, poop, milk, and urine test known to veterinary medicine, and then they did an ultrasound and looked at every internal organ in her abdomen. Clearly she had some sort of infection as she had a fever of 104.5, and her white blood cell count was elevated. But beyond that, they had no idea what was really going on. She was starting to head into acidosis, probably due to the diarrhea that she'd developed, so they drenched her with a liter of water with baking soda and other things that were lacking in her blood and gave her antibiotics. Things did not look good for a couple of days as the diarrhea continued and her udder did not fill up.

Then this morning, Katherine came inside to tell me that Cicada has diarrhea and no milk. Ugh! I immediately told her to put Cicada in the other barn with Annie because it looked like whatever Annie had was contagious and now Cicada has it, but hopefully no one else gets it! I was getting really depressed, worrying about losing all of my milkers and thinking the worst. I planned to contact the vet clinic after coming back inside the house. But when we took Cicada into the other barn, Annie appeared to have a full udder! Katherine milked her and she had about two-thirds of a quart of milk, which is almost where she was before she got sick. Then I realized her poop was back to normal. So, we are really excited about her prognosis now and assuming that Cicada will follow suit!

There was one day in the past couple weeks that I thought the mama turkey had lost her babies, and I was worried about her udder filling up with milk. No, I haven't been getting a lot of sleep lately!

That's all the time I have for tonight, but I'm really hoping to post more often and keep you updated on everything that's happening around here! And as I'm typing this, thunder is clapping and lightening is streaking across the sky. The radar looks scary, so I better hit "publish" before the electricity goes out. I think I hear Bette Davis saying, "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night."

Sunday, May 13, 2012


This past week has been an absolute blur. Things have calmed down for the moment, so I'm hoping to get you updated on what's been happening. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here you go!

Last Sunday (a week ago), only two days after the "hurricane" we had a flood --

No, we don't own lakefront property. 

And when we flood water receded, we had a mess --

All of the pastures that were flooded in the above pictures were fenced, either with electric fencing or temporary electric netting. We already learned our lesson with woven wire. Still, this was a big mess to deal with.

We were not even done cleaning up from the storm a couple days earlier, which cracked seven trees and laid them down on fences, and then we had to deal with this.

At least the goats were happy -- they had a new bridge for crossing the creek!

 That was last Monday, and life just got more interesting all week!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hurricane in Illinois?

Clare enjoying the new buffet of leaves and branches!
"When it rains, it pours" is more than just a meaningless cliche here today. I knew today was going to be interesting because we had goats being shipped out of the Bloomington airport -- two at 6 a.m. and four more at 6:25, and they're supposed to be dropped off two hours earlier, which meant we were getting up quite early for the hour-long drive to the airport.

Hickory trees in front yard --
most of the branches on the right side
are ripped off and hanging down to the ground.
Shortly after 1 a.m., however, life got interesting. Normally I'm sleeping at that time, and this morning was no different. Then a massive storm hit us. Sleeping through it was simply not possible. They say that a tornado sounds like a freight train coming at you, and that's exactly what it sounded like outside. Mike pulled up the radar, and we could see that we were completely engulfed in a large magenta colored mass with pink next to it. Pink? I've never seen pink on the radar before. I looked at the key and saw that it was worse than magenta -- and that purple is even worse than pink. I wondered how on earth anything could be worse that what we were experiencing. I could hear windows rattling and other creaking noises, and our house is only seven years old. I had been about a hundred miles inland for hurricane Alicia in 1983 when it hit Houston, and this was worse than what I remembered back then. Later I learned that last night's winds were gusting up to 70 mph.

After half an hour, the noise finally died down, and the radar confirmed that the storm had passed. It was 2 a.m., and Mike and I foolishly thought we could get an hour of sleep before heading to the airport. I did sleep, but it might have been a mistake. It was really tough to drag myself out of bed. Walking across the yard in the darkness to the barn, I couldn't really see much. There were a couple of small branches in my path, so I tossed them aside. By the time we got the kids all loaded into their respective crates and onto the pickup, it was about ten minute to four. I wondered what we'd see when we came home after sun-up.

This branch is laying on an electric fence.
The experience at the airport was interesting. Because it is a small airport, we have to check in the goats in the same place as people check in, so you can imagine we got a lot of attention. It took a full hour to get the goats checked in and on their way. Each of the six goats had to be removed from its crate and inspected by the TSA people. That's when things really got ridiculous. All of the people standing in line were oohing and aahing over the goaty cuteness, including one woman who said to her child, "Look at the lambs!" I smiled and didn't correct her. And the cell phone cameras came out, and people were snapping pictures like crazy of us holding the kids. I imagine our pictures are all over Facebook now, on walls of people we've never met, with captions about the goats at the airport. And several people asked us if they were "special goats," so I took the opportunity to explain the awesomeness of the Nigerian dwarf dairy goats and why people love them so much. When the TSA people realized the goats had their names on their collars, they started calling them by their names. They especially loved Ursula's name.

The man doing our check in briefly scared me. "You got a reservation on this flight?" he asked. I said, yes. He didn't look happy. Apparently the computer was telling him that the goats could not go on the flight on which they were scheduled because the transfer time in Atlanta wasn't long enough. But he double-checked the times manually and said there was plenty of time for the goats to get from one terminal to another.

I wasn't exactly happy that they took all three crates to a back room after the TSA inspection. He came out and asked me which one was going to Arkansas, and thank goodness, I had labeled the crates with their destinations. I told him about the labels, but I really should have just asked to see the goats again to be double sure. I worried all morning that the wrong goats were jetting down to Arkansas.

That is not a bush in front of the shelter.
It's part of a tree and is about 8 feet high.
The goats will only be able to reach about a fourth of it.
On the drive back, we didn't really see any storm damage until we were about three miles from home. A couple pieces of wood from a hog building were in the road, and we saw a couple of large branches fallen from trees. But I really started to get worried when we were half a mile from home. Someone moved in a few months ago and planted a lot of five-foot tall evergreens. Some of them had been ripped up by their roots. The next home had five or six trees with massive damage. One tree with a trunk more than a foot in diameter had snapped like a toothpick. Several trees were missing about a third of their branches. Mike drove slowly as soon as we reached the edge of our property.

We saw the sheep walking around happily in their pasture, and then we noticed a huge tree that had been ripped up by the roots and was laying horizontally on the ground. We saw a large tree with huge branches ripped off and laying on the ground -- and then we saw another and another, including one that was laying across an electric fence, which meant the fence was shorted out and worthless. Beyond our driveway, a tree was in the road. As soon as we pulled in front of the house, I decided to walk around to get an idea of the damage.

So far we haven't found any property damage other than fences. Mike's gas-powered chainsaw is broken, so he'll have to haul a generator out to the pastures to do some of the fence work with an electric chainsaw. It took him about an hour to get the limb off the electric fence with a hand saw, but another one is too big for that. It's good that it isn't going across an electric fence though. He spent a couple more hours cleaning off other fences. At least the goats are happy with their windfall. They are stuffing themselves with all of the leaves that are now at buffet level. Although it's a pain to deal with all of this, I am extremely grateful that none of the animals were hurt, and we didn't have any expensive damage.

Mike has a busy weekend ahead as I take off for a book signing in Wisconsin tomorrow and a speaking engagement at the Green Festival in Chicago on Sunday.


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