Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What a day!

I can't remember the last time I came inside and blogged about my day, but this was a day that won't be forgotten soon. We have an apprentice staying with us who is learning about goat birthing, and just as we were about to go outside this morning to milk the new moms -- because their babies are not nursing evenly on both sides -- I heard Sherri yell over the monitor. She was at day 148, and I was expecting her to give birth today because her udder was getting quite big when I saw it last night. So, instead of going to see the new moms, we went into the kidding barn to see Sherri.

She was pushing every now and then, and after about thirty minutes, I heard the phone ring in the barn office. It was a neighbor telling me that a llama was in her yard. Our apprentice had already seen two textbook births, and I'd explained a little to her about dealing with complications, but I said, "This is Sherri. She's had nine years of completely uneventful births. Usually when I hear a sound over the baby monitor, I come running out here to find a kid already born, so she knows what to do. You just have to wipe off the nose and put the kid in front of her face."

I called a friend and asked if someone could come over to help with catching the llama, so she and her teenage son headed over. It started to rain again, and I said, "What else could go wrong?" I realized my cell phone was dead, so we gave my friend's cell phone number to the apprentice ... just in case.

We headed out to find lady llama. We went over the river and through the woods and everywhere else, and we couldn't find the llama. After about half an hour, my friend's phone rang. The apprentice said, "A head is out, but there are no feet." I told her not to worry, we'd head back because we hadn't found the llama anyway. We were almost home when my friend got a text that said, "Kid out!" So, I turned the car around again, and we headed back to search for the llama some more. Then we got another text that said, "Buck doe twins." Finally, I headed home because I had a radio interview scheduled for 11 a.m. to talk about Ecothrifty, my latest book.

When we got home, I went into the barn to check on the kids, which were huge! Later I weighed them and found that the buck was 4.9 pounds, and the doe was 4.5 pounds, which is really big for Nigerian dwarf kids. I'm happy with 2.5 to 3 pound kids, and I'm pretty sure the does would agree with me on that one!

My friends left, and I came inside, waiting for the phone to ring at 11:00. It didn't ring, so I called the back-up number, and got a recording saying it was disconnected. Just as I started to panic, I got an email from my publicist asking if I was ready for my noon interview! Ah! The confirmation email was wrong; is said 12 eastern time.  I'm in the central time zone. An hour later, I did the interview and then decided we should head out to look for lady llama again. Turns out she was easy to find. She was in our pasture! Maybe I should have looked there earlier? I don't know. Maybe there is a place in the fence that was damaged by the storm, and she can now come and go as she pleases. Or maybe it was someone else's llama that was seen? People tend to assume any animals around here are always ours because there are not that many livestock owners in our area.

The deadline for my next book is tomorrow, so I'm hoping to have more time for blogging after that. I still need to tell you about the other births we've had so far and show you the cute pictures of the kids. We are up to 11 kids so far this year, and more are due in February.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Chicken changes

Our three-year-old New Hampshire Red hens and two-year-old Ameraucanas went to the poultry processor in mid-December to become stew hens. Although the Ameraucanas were only two years old, they were never great layers. At age two, they were not laying as well as the New Hampshires that were a year older, which was disappointing. They also stopped laying really early in the fall. At the end of November, none of us could remember when was the last time we saw a blue egg.

Buff Orpginton 4-month-old pullet
Jonathan and Mike cleaned out the chicken house and moved in the young chickens. I ordered 25 Buff Orpingtons from a hatchery in September. Why September? If I'm getting pullets from a hatchery, I prefer to get them in the fall because they wind up laying more eggs. It takes about six months for most pullets to start laying, so if you get them in September, they will reach six months of age right around the same time that most hens start laying after their winter hiatus. So, they start laying and they lay incredibly well because of the long days of summer. If you buy spring pullets, they start laying a few eggs around the time that the days are getting shorter and then slow down or even stop from December to February, so when you look at the number of eggs laid in their first year, it isn't great.

I quit buying roosters a long time ago because I realized you always get a couple anyway, possibly because of sexing errors or possibly because they add a rooster for "warmth" because they are always undersold. (Most people want hens for eggs.) I almost didn't get a rooster this time as only one turned out to be a cockerel! Maybe I should start adding one rooster to my orders in the future to be safe. Although you don't need a rooster to make eggs, we want fertile eggs so we can hatch our own replacements.

The New Hampshires were amazing layers. The only thing I didn't like about them is that they didn't go broody at all. Raising animals naturally means that I want them to reproduce on their own. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't want broody hens, so poultry breeders have been breeding towards less broody hens for decades. Orpingtons were one of the first two breeds of chickens we ever owned, and some of them did go broody, so I'm hoping a few of these girls will follow suit.

Silver Sebrights
I also added to my Silver Sebright flock. After a year with my first batch of Sebrights, which included half Goldens, I only had two hens and a rooster that had not been eaten by predators. (Okay, we had also eaten some of the roosters.) I ordered another 15 Silver Sebrights, and my one Silver hen finally hatched a brood by late summer. She hatched ten and lost six of them, but the four remaining were all pullets! Hopefully her mothering skills will improve in 2013. The positive/negative thing about the bantams is that they run all over the farm, which means they eat almost zero purchased feed, but they wind up as dinner for predators more often than the other chickens.

I bought the new Sebrights in late spring because they are only sold straight run, and most of the cockerels were destined to become dinner. At 3-4 months of age, almost all of them dress out at exactly a pound each, and when split down the middle, it makes a beautiful little grilled chicken for two people. One half is the perfect serving for one person with your own little leg, thigh, wing, and breast. I'll have to remember to take a picture of one next summer when we grill them!

And in case you're thinking that you see a few chickens in these pictures that don't look like Orpingtons or Sebrights, you are correct. We hatched a few eggs in the incubator this past spring, so we have four New Hampshire pullets, a Barred Rock pullet, and a cross-breed pullet.

This spring I will also be getting about a dozen straight run Delawares.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The longest week (or two) of my life

Four year ago when I adopted Joy at age 11
When I turned off the computer two weeks ago on Saturday night, December 29, I went upstairs and discovered that my little bichon was dead. She was 15 years old, and her health had been deteriorating for the past few months. She was going blind, and her arthritis was getting so bad that I was thinking about calling the vet to see if there was another medication that might help her more than the one she was currently taking. There was an obvious correlation between her ability to get around and her appetite. If she wasn't feeling good enough to walk around, she also wouldn't eat, even if I put food right in front of her. Still, I didn't expect her to be gone so suddenly.

On the afternoon of New Year's Eve, I was furiously working towards my goal of completing 50,000 words on my goat book so that I could celebrate a quiet evening at home with Mike. At 5:00, however, everything changed. My sister-in-law called to say that my mother-in-law had "taken a turn for the worse." She had been diagnosed with lung cancer in the summer, but when we had seen her on Christmas Day, she seemed fine. She was eating well, joking, and playing cards with the family. I found Mike outside and told him we needed to head over to his mother's house as soon as he finished the evening chores. It was the last time I would look at my manuscript for eight days.

We finished up everything at home, got in the car and headed over to her house. My sister-in-law was there, making phone calls to relatives when we arrived at eight o'clock. We hadn't eaten dinner, so we brought some cold meatloaf with us and put it in the kitchen. As soon as I saw my mother-in-law, something in my head said that she would never see 2013. I don't know if she ever knew we were there, but Mike held his mother's hand for the last two hours of her life.

The next six days were spent driving back and forth from home to the Peoria area to help with funeral plans and be with family members as they flew in from across the country and around the world. It was the most beautiful celebration of her life as we all scoured dozens of scrapbooks that chronicled all of her travels and volunteer work. She and her husband, who is now in the final stages of Alzheimer's, had traveled to 44 countries, some for fun and some to do volunteer work, like their trip to Haiti as support staff for doctors who were caring for the people there. Over and over, the words, "a life well lived" kept going through my head.

And every night, as we drove home and I walked into my bedroom, I kept expecting my little Joy to greet me, hobbling across the floor with tail wagging. And then I'd remember that she was gone.

Luckily, my two youngest children were on break from college, so they were able to run the farm when Mike and I were absent. Still, it made me think about what would happen in a similar situation when all of our children have careers of their own in a few years. But I know we can't live our lives based on "what if."

In the midst of all this, my son's car broke down and had to be towed, which was followed by a $600 repair bill. And he and I just got home from a three-day conference. We've also had to get ready for goat kidding to begin. Trips to Memphis and Dallas to do TV shows promoting Ecothrifty had to be canceled. Memphis is rescheduled for March, but I haven't rescheduled Dallas yet. And the elephant in the room, which no one really wanted to discuss, was the fact that Mike's father will probably not be with us much longer either. So I feel like I'm in the middle of a huge life lesson on acceptance and patience.


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