Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Water, water ... nowhere

Somehow the goats opened the gate today and came into the front yard.
And they quickly found everything green!

How long has it been since we've had any measurable amount of rain? I'm not entirely sure, but it's somewhere around seven or eight weeks. We are officially in an "extreme drought," according to the Drought Monitor. I've gone through all the usual stages of grief -- denial, anger, bargaining, and finally acceptance. There is still a part of me that is angry, but the logical part of my brain keeps telling me to just settle down. Acceptance is probably the most difficult thing for humans to learn.

This morning, we sent nine goats to be processed. They were wethers from last year that didn't sell. I had hoped to sell them this year, but most people don't want year-old pet goats, even at a discounted price. They want babies. The plan was to butcher them at the end of summer if they still didn't sell, but at this point, they were eating grass that is far too valuable for future pets that will sell for the cost of a few bales of hay, which they have already consumed. It wasn't that long ago that I said I could never butcher a goat, and it certainly was not easy bringing the boys into the barn last night, knowing where they would be going this morning. But I have to think of the welfare of all the animals out there. Unless there is a good reason to keep one, it has to go. And I really need to sell the sheep, or we will wind up with a freezer full of lamb and mutton by fall.

Carmen is pregnant and due to kid in 2-3 weeks. She really loves the weeds in the driveway.
It has been so easy over the past ten years to take for granted all of the beautiful, lush grass that grows throughout our summers, as well as the nearby hay fields. I had always thought that our animals would never go hungry. This summer, however, those pastures are rapidly turning brown. And the surrounding hay fields are dieing. I normally need about 800 bales of hay, which we start feeding towards the end of October or early November, depending upon the weather. But we need to be feeding hay now -- at the end of July! I was able to find 240 bales of alfalfa, and you don't have to do any math to conclude that it isn't nearly enough to last until next spring.

Finding no other alternatives, I decided to buy Chaffhaye, which is haylage. There wasn't a dealer within 100 miles of me, so I bought a truckload and can sell some to other people if they find themselves in a bind, unable to find hay for their animals. If no one buys any, I'll have plenty to feed my animals for more than a year. Yeah, that was pricey, but it's a good answer. I've heard more than one livestock producer say you should always have enough hay in storage to last for two years.

The garden isn't doing very well, but we've been able to keep everything alive. We aren't planting anything new. Although we're assuming we have a good water well, I don't want to take anything for granted because there are some people around here whose wells have run dry. The last thing I want to do is haul water from town. I've noticed a new water truck driving down our road the last couple weeks. Towards the end of next month, I'll plant some seeds for lettuce and other greens to overwinter in our low tunnels, but I'm not planting them until this horrific heat is passed.

Our pond is drying up, which is simply a constant reminder of our new reality. Every bit of dirt that you see in the photo above and below was covered with water two months ago.

I hope the crack willows don't die. They are accustomed to growing in the water, so I imagine they have pretty shallow roots.

On the bright side, we now know where all of our buckets disappear to!

But the sobering reality is that the situation is not expected to get better. The Drought Outlook shows the drought continuing through October at least.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Molly's new calf

When I was doing chores on Thursday evening, Molly the Irish Dexter was walking across the pasture towards me. I immediately noticed the front of her udder because it was quite large and so tight that the skin was almost shiny. That got my attention! Was she in labor? Was she really close? I started watching her carefully, and as she turned around, I saw her rear udder, which was not even close to being so large. Knowing that her fore udder had to be pretty uncomfortable, I was feeling sorry for her thinking that it would probably still be a couple days before she calved because I expected the whole udder to be that large just before calving, rather than only the front half.

As I was finishing up chores, Molly was nowhere in sight. I thought about looking for her in case she was in labor, but reminded myself that her rear udder was not impressive, so I headed into the house.

Friday morning, Katherine and I headed down south to the little city for shopping and a visit to the chiropractor after she milked the goats. Mike was handling the rest of morning chores. About ten minutes down the road, I thought about wanting to water the grass in one of the buck pens -- yes, I am a desperate woman with this drought -- and picked up my cell phone to call Mike. When he answered the phone, he was really rushed, so I asked what was up, and he said that Molly had calved.

Mike wanted to get back out to it to make sure that the calf was clean so that flies wouldn't lay eggs on it and cause a bad case of maggots (also called "fly strike"). We've dealt with two cases of fly strike here, and that is more than enough for one lifetime! The first time it was a lamb, and the second time it was a turkey hen that had been attacked by a coyote. Nothing much turns my stomach, but maggots crawling around inside the skin of a living creature make my belly feel like it is being turned inside out. I'll die a happy woman if I never see that again!

Mike had just found the calf before I called, and he didn't even know if it was a bull or a heifer. He called back a little later to say that it was a bull calf, which means that of the five calves born on our farm, four have been bulls. Bridget looks like she'll be calving in about a month, so maybe she'll have a heifer and start to even out the numbers a little.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The challenge with apprentices

Our apprentice last summer with Viola, one of the goats he milked twice daily
Quite a few people have asked why we don't have an apprentice or intern this summer. The simple reason is that I have not been trying to get one. And here is the long answer --

When we had an ad on WWOOF, we received a lot of inquires from people who were completely new to homesteading and agriculture. Being completely new to it ourselves ten years ago, we didn't really see that as a big problem. And if people were as motivated as we were ten years ago, it would not have been a problem. Unfortunately it can be a challenge to judge someone's motivation. I had learned from reading internship descriptions from other farms that it was a good idea to have potential interns visit for a day to get an idea of what real farm life is like. And that is an excellent idea. It weeded out a couple of people. Unfortunately, it doesn't weed out everyone who may not be a good fit.

There were numerous people who did a great job during their trial day. We got along great, and they seemed to be genuinely interested in this lifestyle and work. Unfortunately, as it turned out, they were just passing time while trying to get a real job. After accepting apprenticeships with us, several wound up calling at the last minute to tell us that they had accepted a job offer and would not be coming out. There was one who just never showed up and didn't answer my emails or phone calls. It was especially frustrating because in most of those cases, there were others who had also applied, and we told them that the position for that time period was filled. It felt like they had only viewed the apprenticeship opportunity as a fun way to get a "free" vacation while job hunting.

I thought about requiring $100 deposit for apprentices that were accepted. The deposit would be returned at the end of their internship. If they didn't show up or left early, they would lose it. The idea was that it would weed out people who were just looking for a fun way to pass a few weeks while unemployed.

I thought about making it a paid position, hoping people would be more motivated to show up, but then I thought about how much time we put into teaching. Almost everyone who applies has absolutely zero experience, which means we spend a lot of hours covering very basic information, and simple chores wind up taking us twice as long, sometimes longer to accomplish, than if we were doing it ourselves. There is no way I could justify paying someone for making my life more complicated.

Because people do learn a ton while working out here, and we provide room and board, I had contemplated starting to actually charge for the internship. In fact, I do know of one farm that charges about $5,000 for an apprenticeship that lasts a few months. But then I started to think that if someone was paying us for the experience, there would probably be some kind of liability issues, and I didn't relish the idea of trying to explain this to our insurance company. They would probably have no idea how to deal with it. Is it tourism? Is it educational? Or is it something else?

It actually takes a lot of time to correspond with people and then go through the trial day. When someone first contacts me, I send them a list of questions about their background, what they already know, and what they hope to learn, as well as things that they don't really want to do on a farm. After the emails back and forth, they come out here for a day, which winds up being less than productive for us because we are explaining everything we do, which takes more time. We also spend a couple hours talking over lunch. And then I check references. If you've ever hired someone, you know it is a rather time consuming process, and even though these are unpaid positions, the process is the same. As much as I love the idea of teaching new people how to do everything that we do, I need to figure out a better screening process for applicants because this is far too time consuming, and the return on investment of time is terrible.

So, I'm not actively looking for interns or apprentices. I don't have ads anywhere now. It is mentioned on our website, and I have received a couple of inquiries in the last few months. Someone is supposed to come out in January for kidding season. She wants to learn about kidding first hand so that she can have her own goats at some point. She graduates from college in December and will be looking for a full-time farm internship that will start in the spring for next year's growing season. It sounds like she is serious and that kidding season will fit into her schedule well.

This post is long overdue, as I've had several people asking me what I thought of the idea of having an intern or apprentice. I've been telling them for at least a few months that I'd be posting about my impressions soon. The bottom line is, if you really need "help" on a farm, it is more helpful to hire someone who actually has a background in what you're doing -- or at least has worked outside doing physical labor in the past and has shown some sort of commitment to the idea of growing or producing food. Our most successful intern was Michael, an ag student who had done an internship at another farm the previous summer.

I may start actively looking for apprentices or interns in the future, but for now, I am happy to pay an experienced person to help out. For the summer, we have a local college student coming over three times a week to help with weeding, watering, and daily goat chores. She grew up on a farm with goats and a garden and needed a summer job. She is comfortable around livestock and knows her way around a garden, which means she is actually helpful.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Broiling and steamed

No, this post is not about food. "Broiling" is about temperatures in excess of 100 degrees every day for about a week now. Today is supposed to get to 111 degrees, and it was 101.3 at 10:13 this morning, which was not what I wanted to see.

Combine these temperatures with no rain for more than two weeks, and what do you get? The grass is turning brown, and on a farm, that is not a cosmetic complaint. We are going to start watering a couple areas of pasture. Of course the garden is not happy either, so we have been watering the vegetables plants for awhile already.

So far the animals are doing okay, although I did have one goat that quit eating. Earlier this week I realized she had a pretty heavy load of parasites, so I treated her for that, but she still didn't regain her appetite. I took her to the U of I vet clinic yesterday, and they couldn't find anything wrong with her, so I'm assuming that the weather is just making it harder for her to recover. We've put her in the barn office with an air conditioner until tomorrow when the heat wave is supposed to break.

"Steamed" in today's title is about how mad I am that something -- I'm assuming another raccoon (or two) -- has completely wiped out our flock of heritage turkeys. We found the remains of three, but we haven't seen a live turkey in days. We now have a trap set, but so far, nothing has been caught. The number of chickens and ducks is also decreasing. It seems that coons are bad everywhere this year. We haven't had a problem in about eight years ourselves. A friend was saying that she thinks it was due to our very mild winter and early spring, and I agree. Baby raccoons born at zero degrees are far less likely to survive than those born at 50 degrees.

It is going to be strange without turkeys roaming around. We've had breeding turkeys ever since we moved out here ten years ago. Unfortunately, the hatchery sent us almost all broad breasted turkeys in our order last month, so with only two Spanish black poults, the odds are 50/50 that it's a male and a female. But it's not a great idea to have only one female with a male anyway.

So, for now, there isn't much we can do other than wait for the heat wave to break and the raccoons to wander into the trap.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Camelid spa day

It really doesn't matter how you explain it to them, llamas do not enjoy their annual grooming, which includes mani-pedis, haircuts, deworming, and booster vaccines. And they seem to dislike the mani-pedis and haircuts the most. Before shearing, however, they have to have the dust blown out of their hair, partly because it is the first step in cleaning the fiber, but also because clipper blades will last longer if they're not cutting through dirt.

So, here is Dolce having his fiber blown out. He is our only intact male, and he was so good this year that we were all wondering if he was sick or something. He didn't object to anything. Tuscany, however, was a different story. He is our smallest gelding, and he was not happy with any of it -- not even being put into a stall in the barn. In fact, he jumped right over the door the second we turned our backs on him. He kept throwing fits the whole time he was being sheared, shaking the chute that he was in and giving me flashbacks of the year when Dolce tried to tear it down.

But the real challenge of the day came when we tried to shear Sitara. It was easy to get her into the barn -- we lured her in with grain -- but as soon as she was haltered, she refused to move. She laid down in the stall, so we moved on to another llama. Finally, only Sitara was left. Somehow the shearer finally got her out of the stall and outside for blowing out her coat, but as soon as they were heading back into the barn, she decided to plop down right there in the middle of the barn, and she refused to move. She just laid there like a diva, and the shearer got to work. They rolled her from side to side while she made a noise similar to a mountain lion. Finally, they finished up shearing, cleaned up everything, and left. And Sitara just sat.

And sat.

And we wondered if she'd dehydrate and die. After all, it was really hot. We put a bucket of water on the ground for her, closed the door, and left the barn.

An hour later she was still sitting. Two hours later. Three hours later. Finally, almost four hours after the shearers left, she stood up. Katherine happened to see her standing in the barn, so she took the end of the lead rope and led her out to the pasture.

Monday, July 2, 2012

In praise of daylilies

Every June or July, I walk around the yard and take pictures of the dayliles. In spite of our dreadful heat, which has already gone into triple digits a few times, these flowers are doing pretty well, which is one reason I love daylilies so much. So, for your viewing pleasure, here are a few photos!

And a few daisies!

I really do not have a green thumb, and I don't have the time I would need in order to have the beautiful flower garden that I would love to have. So, daylilies are the perfect flower for me. They come back year after year in spite of the heat and lack of special attention or watering. These pictures were taken after two weeks without rain. We are watering today, but I can't think of too many flowers that are as forgiving as daylilies.


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