Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Henmobile launched

When we first moved out here in 2002, I truly thought that I only needed to look to memories of my grandparent's farm to know what to do. And my grandparents had a chicken house. When I discovered that chicken houses in Illinois had dual-pitched roofs and were faced towards the south to keep naturally warmer in winter, I decided to design just such a chicken house for our homestead.

In no time, the beautiful grass carpet in front of the chicken house was gone. It was replaced by a mud slick most of the year and an ice slick the rest of the time. What would you expect with 50 or 60 chickens running in and out all day long? Of course, grass can't grow there.

The other thing I didn't like was that the chicken house was so close to the barn that many of the chickens decided that they would just as soon find a cozy spot in the barn to lay their eggs. So, we were going on egg hunts daily.

But every summer there would be at least a couple of hens that would do such a good job of hiding their eggs that we didn't find them ... until they got rotten and exploded at some point during the summer heat.

What's a homesteader to do? Build a portable hen house, of course!

After a bit of searching on Craigslist, we found an old construction site trailer that we purchased. It was basically a wooden box built on a flatbed trailer. We had to replace one and a half walls that were rotten, which was fine because we added roll-out nest boxes to the new wall.

The back wall, where the door was located, also needed to be replaced, and that's where we put a new drop down door, which doubles as a ramp.

On the evening of July 6, we moved all of the chickens into the henmobile after the sun went down and they were all roosting. (It's easier to catch chickens in the dark because they're mostly blind in the darkness.) The next morning, we moved the henmobile out to the former hayfield.

We set up poultry netting around the mobile henhouse and opened the door.

The idea is to move the henmobile regularly so that we don't wind up with areas where all of the grass is killed. The chickens follow the sheep in a rotational grazing pattern. The sheep eat down the grass, then the chickens come in and eat fly larvae and other insects while continuing to fertilize the pasture.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Meet Chuck!

When we went to do evening chores on May 31, we were greeted by this lovely little fellow. Beauty, our Jersey milk cow, gave birth sometime in the afternoon.

I immediately started to worry about the little guy because he didn't seem to know much about nursing. Beauty's udder was really full, and his tummy was really sunken. When I squeezed each of her teats, milk easily squirted out of three of them, meaning that he had at least nursed enough to get the milk plug out. The fourth one, however, still had the plug in it.

Since the pasture is huge, and the grass was so tall, we were worried he might get separated from Beauty and not be able to nurse enough. Plus, there was rain in the forecast, and we were worried about him not following her to the shelter -- if she even decided to go into the shelter when it started to rain -- so we took them into the barn for a few days of bonding. We also kept trying to show him the teat and get him to nurse. Gardener Sarah and I quickly agreed this was a big advantage of goats -- they are much easier to handle when you want to get them nursing.

I kept reminding myself that most calves get this thing figured out easily on their own, but still I was worried. Thankfully we did see him nurse a few times before we went to bed that night. And the next morning, we noticed he had a full tummy!

He is doing great, and we castrated him a week ago. Since Beauty's last calf Beau got so obnoxious when the testosterone kicked in, we decided that we should castrate this one so that he won't be so scary when he gets bigger. Yes, his ultimate destiny is the freezer, so I named him Chuck Roast, and we're just calling him Chuck for short.

Since Beauty is making way more milk than Chuck and us humans need, we are hoping to get a bottle calf to also raise for meat. Plus Chuck will have a playmate.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Healing Hashimoto's

Falling TPO antibodies show my Hashimoto's is in remission
More than two years ago I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, and since then I've done what most doctors would call impossible -- I've put it into remission. When I've talked about it on Facebook or on this blog, a lot of people have told me I should write a book about it. However, a lot of other people have already written books, and in fact, I read those books to figure out how to heal myself. I started a health blog a few months ago so that I could share information about books and authors who've helped me along my journey, although I've not been very good about posting.

I was really excited to learn that there will be a Healing Hashimoto's online summit from June 13 to 20. Like most online summits, you can listen to the talks online FREE during the event. Each one will be available for 24 hours, and if you'd like to be able to listen to them again and again, you can purchase lifetime online access or a flash drive with the talks on them.

Some of my favorite authors will be presenting the following sessions ...
It's tough for me to tell people what I did to put my Hashimoto's into remission because there isn't a magic bullet, and triggers can vary from person to person. For me, it was a combination of things like discovering food sensitivities, changing my diet, starting to take a few specific supplements (such as selenium), eating more fermented foods, meditating daily, and going to bed earlier. But it's been totally worth it because I'm now healthier than ever -- and thinner too!

The summit provides a great opportunity for people to get enough information to get started on the path to healing. Click here to register now so you can attend online for FREE starting Monday.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Rats and raccoons and chickens

This is what 70 chicks looks like. What? You are only counting seven chicks? Well, yes, this is what 70 chicks looks like after 47 get eaten by rats and 16 get eaten by raccoons. It's been years since we had predator problems this bad, and we have actually never had any problems losing chickens prior to last fall.

Last fall, raccoons got almost all of our laying hens. Earlier this spring, rats got into the stall that we use as a brooder, and before we realized what was happening, they had eaten all but three. Not to be dissuaded, we got more chicks. We put them in a large water trough with an old window screen over the top, and one day, we discovered a hole in the screen, and some of the chicks were missing.

Ultimately only three of the original chicks went out to the front yard into a chicken tractor. They were doing great until one morning when we walked out there to find feathers everywhere. The raccoon had been able to pull two of the chickens through the 2" by 4" welded wire, but the third one was laying in the chicken tractor decapitated. Chickens have terrible night vision, which is why a raccoon was able to grab them and kill them through the wire.

The second group of chicks went out a few weeks ago, and yesterday we realized that of the 13 Silkies (the white ones with blue beaks and faces) that went into the chicken tractor, only 9 were left. We set up two live traps for raccoons and baited them with cat food. Around 10:00 last night as I was brushing my teeth, we heard what sounded like a chorus of Alvin and the chipmunks on high speed. Mike grabbed a gun and ran outside but before he got there, the raccoon had escaped from the trap and was nowhere to be seen. Our English shepherd Porter went running around the pond in the dark, but he didn't find the raccoon either. We hoped that the coon had been so scared by being trapped that maybe he wouldn't come back. Then again, I silently thought that maybe he had simply learned to not go into a trap again.

This morning, my fear was realized as we found four more Silkies missing, as well as a white rock. We had put a board and a cinderblock in front of the hole that we found yesterday, and it had been moved. Raccoons are stronger and smarter than we thought. To add insult to injury, a chicken was in the trap. Apparently she was trying to escape and ran into the trap that was just outside the chicken tractor. Yes, that means the raccoon totally ignored the cat food in the trap and instead went for the live chickens.

Five chickens of this size is a lot of chicken meat for a raccoon, so we are wondering if there is a whole family that's feeding off of our young chickens. So far we have only ever seen one raccoon. Mike saw one walking out of the barn one night as he was finishing up chores, and our new intern saw one walk out of the chicken house at dusk one night. Oddly, he didn't have a chicken. Perhaps he was just in the mood for some chicken grain or eggs at the moment and figured he'd come back for a chicken entree later? But the chicken house is locked up tight every night, so we haven't lost any from there.

We have another batch of 33 chicks in the barn, and so far we've managed to keep them safe. They are in a water trough that is standing on top of another upside-down water trough, and it's surrounded by rat traps, which catch rats regularly. When we first realized we had a problem with rats in April, we caught 13 rats in the first two days! We do have a cat out there who is also a great mouser, and he has caught several rats, as well. I don't understand why we never had a problem with rats in all these years until now. My only thought is that the huge fox snake that lived in the barn for years probably died. He was at least six feet long, and the ones we've seen so far this year have only been about three feet long, which is perhaps not big enough to eat rats yet. Or maybe Patches the 12-year-old cat that is now retired in the house was a better mouser than we realized.

As for the raccoons, I'm not sure what we'll do, but we have to have a plan for tonight, or we probably won't have any chicks left by tomorrow morning. We will definitely put Lucy the Great Pyrenees in the front yard, but I feel like we also need to do something else to keep the chicks safe. Perhaps we can put a rabbit cage inside the chicken tractor just for tonight, so that there will be two barriers between the chicks and the coons, and maybe as the coons are trying to figure out how to get the chicks, Lucy will take care of them.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Goat retirement plan

Now that we've been on the homestead for 14 years, every now and then someone will ask what we do with does that are too old to give birth. Some assume they're butchered, which is what eventually happens to all dairy animals in large commercial operations. But with only a couple dozen does, all of our goats have names rather than ID numbers, and we know the individual personality of each one.

In general, the last time that a goat gives birth on our farm is when she's ten years old. After her final kidding, we continue to milk her as long as she'll produce, which has been somewhere between a year and eighteen months for various goats. Then they are simply left to enjoy their remaining years in the pasture. My first goat died at the age of 14. The retired does now consist of Sherri at age 13, Carmen at age 12, Lizzie at age 11 (Carmen's daughter), and Giselle at age 9. And then there's Lil, who is 7 years old and never been bred because she never grew up. She's the size of a 6-month-old, and I never sold her because I was worried that someone would get the hair-brained idea to try to develop teacup goats. So Lil lives here. I should do a blog post about her someday, as she does have a special place.

Giselle was retired after her c-section at age seven. Although goats can give birth again after having a c-section, it was the fourth time that Giselle had had kidding problems. Normally I have a two strikes rule, meaning that the second time a doe needs help during kidding, she's retired. I made excuse after excuse for Giselle through the years because she has long teats and was wonderfully easy to milk. But I'd be a fool to get her pregnant again.

The photo above was taken a few days ago when we moved them to new pasture across the farm where they can enjoy plenty of green grass this summer.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Alex's final kidding

Before I tell you this story, I have to tell you that we've had twelve does give birth so far this year, and ten of them were textbook perfect. Now I'm really wishing I had been able to find the time to write about those joyful, beautiful births.

On April 18, I happened to look out the window by my desk, and I saw Alex laying on the ground in an unmistakable position. Her legs were outstretched, her neck was craned, and her ears were pointed back. She was in labor and pushing. I jumped up, grabbed a stack of goat towels that just happened to be next to the front door and ran to the pasture. It seemed like a beautiful spring day to have a goat give birth in the pasture.

As soon as I opened the gate, Lucy the Great Pyrenees ran towards me, and as I approached Alex, the dog's exuberance caused the goat to stand up and start walking away. I put Lucy into another pasture and went back to Alex. Of course, I was wearing a pair of my town jeans, which means that they didn't have any farm stains on them, such as manure, dirt, or blood.

Beauty the Jersey cow also happened to be in the pasture, and she decided to come say hi. She has recently decided that I'm her new scratching post, and she started to rub her head against me. I called Sarah who was in the barn working on a building project, and she came out and moved Beauty to the next pasture. Then she brought a flake of straw so that I could scatter it on the ground because Alex had chosen to lie down in a spot with more dirt than grass.

The first kid was very slow to come out, partly because Alex wasn't pushing very hard, and partly because he was quite large. I'd later discover that he was 4 pounds, 7 ounces, which is big for a Nigerian, where 3 pounds is more average. Because her contractions seemed to be really wimpy and the kid was making little to no progress from one contraction to the next, I pulled on his legs to help bring him into the world.

I could see that the second kid was even bigger when the first hoof emerged. I kept comparing it to the hoof of the kid that had already been born and was worried. As the nose and white head began to come out, it was easy to see that there was an unusual amount of blood. (I took the picture at right after I'd toweled him off and removed as much blood as I could.) Turns out he weighed 5 pounds, 2 ounces, setting a new record for largest Nigerian kid born on the farm. Because he was also progressing excruciatingly slowly, I wound up pulling him also, and it was such a tight squeeze that Alex was even pulled across the grass a little.

After the kids were born, I started to worry even more, as Alex completely ignored them. She's an experienced mom and has always been wonderful with her kids. We took her and the bucklings into the barn, and not only would she not let them nurse, but she wouldn't let me milk her. This is a doe who just finished a three-year lactation two months ago, so she's also a very experienced milker! She just wanted to lay in the stall with her ears back, looking angry.

I was supposed to pick up two bee nucs (starter hives of live bees) right about the time that Alex went into labor, but I messaged the bee person and told him why I was running late. I felt very conflicted, as I really needed to pick up the bees and bring them home, but I was also worried about Alex. I checked her temperature, and it was only 101.5, which is a little on the low side, but probably not low enough to assume she had milk fever. She wasn't eating until we gave her Power Punch, which is an electrolyte and molasses concoction. I couldn't check her for ketones because that would require catching her urine, and she wasn't standing up, so I'd have no idea when or if she peed.

She hadn't passed her placenta, and there was not much hanging out in terms of membranes, so I was not completely convinced that she didn't have another kid inside because she was still pushing ever few minutes. I've never seen a doe really "push" if the only thing left was the placenta. I decided to do an internal exam to check for a retained kid, but there wasn't one.

Because she wouldn't stand up and let the kids nurse, I eventually was able to milk out her colostrum and give it to the bucklings in a bottle. At least they were doing well.

I called the U of I vet hospital and spoke to a vet who said that it sounded like Alex might just be in pain because the kids were so unusually large. So, I jumped in my car and went to pick up the bees and bring them home. There was a farm supply store on my route, so I stopped and picked up some CMPK to treat for possible milk fever, which is caused by a calcium deficiency.

The next morning I knew something was wrong. Her temperature was down to 99, which either meant that it was definitely milk fever or her body was shutting down and she was dying. I put her in the car and headed for the university vet hospital.

Within a couple of hours, an ultrasound and blood tests, we learned that she had metritis and was acidotic. Thankfully she didn't have ketosis or hypocalcemia (milk fever). They thought that they might see a very small mummified fetus in her uterus, but they weren't sure because you can only make educated guesses on an ultrasound. They said she probably had the metritis before she even went into labor, which would explain why she had such wimpy contractions and why I had to pull the kids and why she still hadn't passed her placenta 24 hours later. They still didn't have all the answers though, and Alex was in terrible condition, so I left her a the vet hospital and headed home.

After I left they had a couple of reproductive specialists do another ultrasound, and they don't think there was a retained mummified kid. They thought it looked more like a uterine tear. But they are all in agreement that she had an infection before she even went into labor. The vet said she's gotten worse since I left, so they're actually giving her morphine on top of the banamine. They also started her on an oxytocin drip, hoping that would help her expel the placenta.

I think the reason her temp was so low that morning is because she was shutting down. She really looked like she was just ready to die, so it was hard for me to imagine that she looked worse after I left. They said that if she had a uterine tear, the day after the birth was always the worst, and that if she was going to make it, she should improve a lot by the following day.

The next day they had a reproductive specialist do an ultrasound and a vaginal exam, and he said that she has an interior vaginal tear, which went all the way through into her abdomen, and that could ultimately cause more problems than a uterine tear. The vet said "Goat uteruses love to tear. It's just what they do. But they're also really good at healing themselves." Vaginal tears can wind up with a lot of scar tissue that would cause kidding problems in the future. If we wanted to breed her again, they suggested bringing her back in 30 days for another exam to see if scar tissue is building up and looks problematic. That was another first for me! I'd never heard of an interior vaginal tear, but that's probably why the 5-pound, 2-ounce kid had so much blood on his head when he was being born.

Alex continued to improve, and I was able to bring her home after five days in the vet hospital. On the phone, the vet told me how much better she looked, but when I arrived, I thought she looked dreadful. After I brought her home and put her in the barn with her kids, she just laid there all the time with her ears back, and she'd still push every few minutes. They said that was because of the internal tear. Every time I looked at her, I kept thinking that she might still die. I'd never seen a goat look so miserable, and I just kept reminding myself that we'd done everything possible.

I put her in the kidding stall with her bucklings, which we'd been bottle-feeding. I simply hoped she'd tolerate them, but it seemed that she remembered them as she would lick them when they came near her. Three days after she came home, she finally started standing up to eat. As I was giving one of her boys a bottle one evening, the other one was bopping my leg, hoping to find a new spigot for milk. Since Alex had been tolerating them quite well, I decided to give it a try and see if she'd let the kid nurse.

I sat down in the straw and put the kid under her. I put the teat in his mouth while squeezing out a bit of milk onto his tongue. He immediately began to suckle! I supported his head for a minute or so, then I let go, and he continued to nurse, and Alex just stood there like a perfect mama! The other kid, who had already had a bottle, wasn't interested, so I decided to let him try nursing in the morning before giving him a bottle.

The next morning I was so excited about the possibility of the second kid starting to nurse but reminded myself that it might not work. Don't get your hopes up too much, I told myself. When I walked into the kidding pen, I checked the tummy on the kid who had nursed the night before, and it was quite full. I felt Alex's udder, and it was loose. We had been milking her, so I knew it would have been much more full if the kid had not been nursing.

I sat down and put the other buckling in front of Alex's udder and opened his mouth, just as I'd done for his brother. He also began suckling immediately! I was over the moon excited, and the song "Miracle's Happen" from Princess Diaries immediately began playing in my head. Indeed, if anyone had asked me if this was possible, I would have said that I never say never, but I wouldn't get my hopes up about kids starting to nurse at eight or nine days of age.

Alex has continued to improve, and we recently moved her and her bucklings into a nursery pen with two other does and their kids, and Alex immediately decided she should be the queen of this little herd. She took on the other two does in quite the head butting match and won.

We have no  plans to ever breed her again, as I'm not going to trust a visual exam to determine whether or not she'd be able to give birth vaginally in the future. Her last lactation lasted three years, and she is six years old now, so we will just continue to milk her and see how long she can go.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Farewell, Sadie

Sadie in 2013 with her triplet does
The vet called today shortly before noon to say that she had consulted with a couple of reproductive specialists, and they said that if Sadie has not responded to the first two shots of prostaglandin, there is really no point in making her miserable with a third. If her cervix is not dilating, it's because of scar tissue or adhesions, and it's not going to dilate.

Sadie and her sister as kids in 2012
They did not recommend draining the uterus surgically because if it was full of pus, they would not be able to keep it from the abdominal cavity, so it would cause more problems. They did not recommend draining it through the cervix with a trochar because it would leave her with less than a five percent chance of ever carrying a pregnancy to term, and the odds are high that the uterus would simply fill with fluid again.

Sadie in 2013
They said that if her uterus continued to fill with fluid, it would eventually cause her to be unable to poop, and she was already straining to have a bowel movement. The uterus could eventually rupture, if she lived long enough. She's had a catheter in her for as long as she's been there, so that her bladder won't overfill again, but they couldn't send her home with a catheter.

In the end, our options came down to euthanasia or a hysterectomy, which would cost $1000, assuming nothing went wrong, which could drive up the price even more. Apparently doing a hysterectomy on a goat is more complicated than on dogs and cats. When I left her there on Thursday, the estimate was $700-800, and the bill is already $1100.

Sadie's udder as a 2 year old
It's been a horrible few hours, thinking about what to do. Hearing the estimate for a hysterectomy came as quite a shock. Last week, they had said it probably would be a few hundred dollars. A thousand dollars is about three times as much as what I'd been preparing myself for. I just can't justify spending $1000 to keep her alive, knowing that she would "only" be a pet afterwards. I already have four retired does, as well as an 8-year-old that has never been bred because she never grew big enough. Still, I hate the idea of essentially putting a price tag on her life. If I had all the money in the world, I would have easily said to do the hysterectomy. But I can't live my life as if I have money I don't have. And what would I do if next week another animal were to get injured or become ill? I have to try to maintain some sort of fiscal responsibility. Still, I hate it.

It makes it even worse for me that she's spent the last six days of her life alone in a strange place with strangers who've been poking her with needles and a catheter. I justified leaving her there because I thought they could make her well, and she'd be able to come home and be with her babies again. Sadie was such a shy kid, but after she freshened, she warmed up to me and the rest of the humans. I always told her that she could trust us, and as I was leaving her at the vet hospital last week, I couldn't help but think that she felt betrayed. If only I could have explained to her what was happening ...

Sadie in labor last month
So, I called the vet a little while ago and told her to euthanize Sadie. It was one of those horrible moments in life. I hated it. But I also hated that she had endured six more days of suffering because we were hoping to save her. They said the prostaglandin injections might not work, but in my head, I was thinking that they had to work. She would go into heat. Her cervix would open, and her uterus would drain. It sounded so simple. Surely, Sadie would be coming home again.

But then I think that I understand why farmers tend to be such spiritual people. Maybe it's to protect our sanity, but we have to believe that everything works out for the best. Perhaps Sadie was only with us for four years because that's what was meant to be. She's given me all that I was meant to have from her. I just realized that I have her son from last year. It sounds silly, but I kept forgetting to advertise him. Maybe there was a reason for that. This year, the person who had wanted two of Sadie's doelings wound up having to cancel after I had already marked them as sold on the website, and Sadie got sick before I had a chance to update the website stating that they were available.

One of Sadie's daughters born last month that we'll be keeping
Still, it's always hard to lose a good goat, and Sadie was great. She was very generous about giving me plenty of doe kids, starting with triplet does when she was only a year old. In four years, she gave us 14 kids, which included a remarkable 11 does! She also had outstanding parasite resistance, having never had a dewormer in her life. And until this year, she never had any birthing problems, even spitting out a couple of breech kids without help as a first freshening yearling. I'm so grateful to have three of her kids here, especially since I never had the foresight to consciously keep any of them, thinking that I had plenty of time since she was only four years old. Although we won't see her sweet face again, she left behind a great legacy in her kids. Perhaps that's the best thing that any of us -- human or goat -- can ever hope for, regardless of how many years we live.

Some decisions just suck

As much as I love my homesteading lifestyle, there are times when it just sucks. Now is one of those times.

Last week, our intern told me that Sadie was crying out when she was peeing. I went to the barn and watched her, and within a couple of minutes, she was squatting and screaming, and only a few drops of pee came out. I was puzzled as I have never heard of a doe having a urinary stone. Then life interrupted, and I forgot about her until the next day.

I called the University of Illinois veterinary clinic, and of course they suggested I bring her in, which I did. They ran a lot of urine and blood tests, which all came back normal, which meant she did not have an infection. She also did not have a fever. The interesting thing is that whenever anyone put pressure on her bladder -- whether under her belly or on her sides -- pee would squirt out of her like a water hose on high! They did an ultrasound, which showed an abnormal uterus, and Sadie had given birth five weeks earlier. They hypothesized about the contents of the uterus, and I learned a lot listening to their brainstorming. But they said we could learn more about the contents of the uterus by doing a CT scan. It would be about $450, and our bill was already up to a couple hundred. Even though the solution might lie in a hysterectomy, which would mean she could never have kids again, I agreed to do the test.

It showed that Sadie's uterus was filled with fluid. They're fairly sure that it's not pus because of the color, so it's probably blood or some other type of fluid. There are only two ways to get the fluid out. One is to give her a shot of prostaglandin, which should hopefully cause her to go into heat, which would open her cervix so it could drain. The other way to drain her uterus is surgically -- make a small incision and suction it out. However, will it fill up again?

I opted for the prostaglandin, and they gave her an injection on Saturday. As of Monday, she had not come into heat, so they gave her another injection at a higher dose. As of Tuesday afternoon, she had not come into heat, so they're planning to give her another injection today on Wednesday. But they said we should probably start thinking about surgical options. Other than draining her uterus, which may not work long term, a complete hysterectomy is the best way to eliminate the problem.

But then I'll have a dairy goat who can never get pregnant again. So, we could milk her until she dried up from this lactation, and then she would be worthless as a dairy goat. The bill is already up to $1100. Surgery would be another few hundred.

This is when you realize that being a grown up is not as awesome as you thought it was going to be when you were 12. This is when you wish that you had enough money that a couple thousand dollars didn't mean anything to you. This is when life sucks.

I want Sadie to be able to pee on her own, and to come home, and to continue nursing her three beautiful doelings that have already grown so big and strong during their first five weeks on their mama's milk. We've been trying to feed them milk from the other does with a bottle, and some feedings go better than others. Sometimes they seem to get it, and sometimes they have no clue. They're only getting about 50 percent as much as they should every day. Even though they're eating hay and grain, their immune systems are still very immature, and with the stress of losing their mama, I'm very concerned that I'll soon be seeing poopy butts caused by coccidiosis.

What if we pay for the surgery, but when Sadie comes home, she no longer remembers her kids and won't let them nurse? What if the stress of all this causes her milk to dry up? Or, what if she dies in spite of the surgery -- or because of it?

I suck as a business person. A good business person would have said to euthanize last week as soon as this became complicated. A good business person doesn't lose site of the bottom line. But I am clearly not a good business person. The bill is sitting at $1100 now, and I still can't give up on her, at least not today. She is still at the vet hospital, and I'm still hopeful that another shot of prostaglandin will do the trick. But what will I do if the prostaglandin doesn't work? I know what a good business person would do. I know what my heart wants me to do. But I honestly don't know what I will do.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Our new greenhouse!

A greenhouse or potting shed has been on my to do list for at least a decade. And this year, it finally got done! However, Mike and I didn't do this ourselves.

Sarah, our new garden partner, and her brother Pat, did the framing, then they had some help from our current intern Stefanie with putting it all together.

Finally, Mike did help with putting on the front and back, as well as the door and windows, which were some of the more challenging aspects. Cutting corrugated plastic at an angle is tricky business.

We still need to put shelving inside, but otherwise it's done.

Sarah will be starting seedlings next week, so the greenhouse will be put to work very soon!

If you'd like to build your own greenhouse like this, here is the plan we used, although we put plywood and siding on the bottom, rather than metal. We had some left-over siding from when we built our house, so we wanted to use that. We were also happy to be able to repurpose the door.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Quick and simple triplets

Blanche with her doelings at one day old
Usually I have yoga on Tuesdays, but I had received a call Monday saying that our instructor was ill, so class was canceled. I was somewhat relieved to hear that because at that point, intern Stef had not seen a birth yet. Little did I know at that moment, but before the day had ended, she would see the most complicated birth we'd ever had on the farm. (See yesterday's post for details.)

Tuesday morning, when I would have normally been at my yoga class, I heard the unmistakable sound of a goat pushing. The sound was coming from the television in our bedroom upstairs, and I was at my desk. I ran upstairs and saw that Blanche was lying on her side with her legs stretched out in front of her. Yep, she's pushing. Having no idea how long I'd be outside, I figured I should go to the bathroom before putting on my insulated overalls, coat, and boots.

When I was in the bathroom, I could tell that the sound of her bleats were becoming more and more serious. I ran down the stairs, pulled on my outerwear as quickly as I could while also calling Mike's cell to tell him that Blanche was pushing. He and Stef were across the creek tapping maple trees. I hustled across the yard to the barn, reminding myself to pay attention so that I wouldn't slip on the ice and hurt myself.

When I walked into the barn, Blanche was licking a little black kid. Because the temperature was in the 30s, I grabbed a towel to help get most of the birth goo off the kid so it wouldn't get hypothermia. Stef walked in, and I realized I didn't know if the kid was a buck or a doe, so I checked. It was a doe!

A few minutes later Blanche pushed again, and we saw a nose and two hooves -- perfect presentation! And a few seconds later, the kid was born. A beautiful red doe! (pictured at right)

Only a couple minutes later, Blanche pushed again, and it was another perfect nose and two hooves presentation. The kid was born quickly and easily. It was another doe!

The first kid weighed 2 pounds, 8 ounces, while the second one was the largest at 4 pounds, 3 ounces, and the third one was in the middle at 3 pounds, 6 ounces. We seem to be having larger than average kids this year.

I told Stef that in only two births, she had seen the two most extreme situations -- one that required serious intervention and one that only required us to dry off the kids and make sure they started nursing, which they also did quite well.

We will have four more births within the next week and then we'll have a break from kidding for a month.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Our most challenging birth ... with a happy ending

Sadie and her triplet doelings at one day of age

After a week of being on kid watch and thinking that Cicada or Sophie would give birth, Monday afternoon Sadie went into labor. I was supposed to be teaching a class at the local community college on how to get your writing published. My husband Mike and intern Stefanie were here, and although part of me thought that it would be fine to leave them in charge, there was another part of me that thought something wasn't quite right.

Sadie started pushing shortly after 4:00. She wasn't pushing particularly hard and didn't seem distressed, but she kept changing positions -- sitting like a dog, standing and arching her back up like a camel, or squatting to push. Everything in my head said that the kid was not in a great position, and she was changing positions to try to move it along. Most goats give birth lying on their side, and those that do give birth standing are not making their back look like the classic Halloween cat.

At 4:30 I was thinking that I should be going into the house to shower and have dinner, but surely the first kid will be born any minute now, and I can show Stef how to dry it off so that she can handle the rest as they're born. This is her first birth.

By 5:00 I'm thinking that I didn't really need that much time to shower and eat, and that first kid is going to be here really soon, especially after I see a bubble of water appear and break. I slip one finger into Sadie and feel something hard, pointy, and boney. It's probably a butt. It's definitely not a nose. Breech kids take a little longer to push out because the butt is more blunt than the nose, which is torpedo-shaped. But the kid should be born soon.

As the minutes tick past, I start to think that I can get away without showering. As more time passes, I tell Stef that I don't need dinner. I can just eat a banana in the car as I'm driving to class. I'll eat dinner when I get home at 9:30. When I check Sadie again, I immediately realize the kid has not budged at all in the last half hour. Something is definitely not right. I realize I have to stay with Sadie. Mike has never dealt with any labor complications, and his hands are much bigger than mine.

I call the college and apologize profusely for canceling at the last minute. "I have a goat in labor who is having complications, and I can't leave."

Sadie is pushing so hard that her rectum is prolapsing. Basically she's pushing it inside out. It's not something I've seen before, and I hope to never see it again. Thankfully, when she stops pushing, everything goes back inside where it belongs. It happens a few more times over the next hour or two, but it all goes back inside whenever she stops pushing.

I ultimately figured out that the kid was indeed breech, but unlike every other breech kid ever born on this farm whose legs were straight up against its stomach and chest, this little darling had its legs folded as if it were lying in the pasture enjoying a sunny day. So, in your typical breech, there is only the circumference of the kid's butt and a single set of bones from it's hind legs that are pressed straight against its body. But in this case, there was the circumference of the kid's butt PLUS three sets of bones from the hind legs that were folded up like a Z against its body.

Summarizing the whole thing in a paragraph like that makes it sound far more simple that it was. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out exactly what I was feeling when I examined Sadie, and I was talking out loud to Mike and Stef about it, trying to help myself visualize it all. I knew I needed to find the hind feet and pull them out, but I couldn't find them. Finally, I decided to phone a friend who has a lot more goats than me, so has seen a lot more unusual presentations. As I was walking towards the house, my brain seemed to connect the dots of what I had been feeling inside Sadie, so I was able to explain it to her far better than I could have a few minutes earlier.

She said I needed to push the kid back inside so that I could straighten out the back legs and pull them out of the doe to deliver the kid. "Do you have a cattle sleeve," she asked, referring to the plastic gloves that go up to your shoulder. "Yes," I replied.

"If you're wearing a shirt, take it off because it's just going to get in your way -- unless you can push your shirt sleeve up to your shoulder." I didn't bother telling her that it was 30 degrees here or that I was actually wearing a shirt, a sweater, and a coat. None of that changed what needed to be done.

Sadie and her first doeling
After I got back to the barn, I was explaining to Mike and Stef what I needed to do. I took off my coat, trying to ignore the cold, and managed to push my shirt and sweater up above my elbow. Stef asked me a question about the kid's presentation and how I would be rearranging it, and as I responded to her question, it actually helped me clarify to myself what I was doing. Although the concept was simple, the task itself was not easy, and it was punctuated with me saying, "I hate this," and "I'm so sorry, Sadie," over and over again.

Once I had both legs out, it really was not hard at all to pull the kid out. It was a doe! And she didn't seem to be the least bit troubled by the ordeal that her mother and I had endured to get her into this world.

As we were cleaning her up, Sadie pushed out the second kid, which was another doe, also in excellent condition.

Then a big bubble of fluid appeared under Sadie's tail. I saw something small and black in the bubble, and I said, "That looks like an ear." Then in a moment of wishful thinking, I said, "It's probably a tail," even though my brain was saying that a tail would be shorter and thicker. It was indeed an ear, which unfortunately for Sadie meant that I would have to push the kid back inside of her, where there would be more room, so that I could flip up the chin so that it could come out nose first. After having just rearranged the first kid, I was not feeling nearly as nervous about helping this one.

We ultimately learned that the third kid was the largest of the three -- also a doeling -- at 4 pounds, 2 ounces. The first one weighed 3 pounds, 8 ounces, and the second one was 3 pounds, 6 ounces. After getting all of the kids to nurse, it was 9:00, which is when my class at the community college would have ended. I was glad that I had canceled because I probably would have been called home early, if I had gone in. Or, if no one had called me, we probably would not have had three live, healthy doelings.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Piglet birth and death

During chores Friday night, Stefanie discovered a newborn piglet wandering around in the pasture. It was freezing outside, and we were not expecting any piglets until April. We had only put the sows with the boars two months ago, and pigs are pregnant for almost four months. Unfortunately we had forgotten that the boars broke into the sows' pasture four months ago. Even though we didn't see any breeding, we should have known that sows in heat would be the reason that boars would decide to bust into the sows' pasture one day.

And here we were dealing with the consequences of that unauthorized breeding. Mike and Stefanie found five piglets, but two had already died. They moved Rachel and the remaining three piglets into a stall in the barn with a heat lamp. One was nearly dead from hypothermia, so they put it in a bucket of warm water to bring it back to life. It seemed to have worked.

Saturday morning there was a dead piglet in the water pan. Mike couldn't find the other two. He dug through the straw in the stall and finally found one that was barely alive. He and Stefanie continued digging through the straw but never found the third piglet. 

They brought the remaining piglet -- a gilt weighing 1.3 pounds -- into the house and warmed it up in a bucket of water, then dried it off and put it on a heating pad in a laundry basket. Stefanie offered it a bottle of warm goat milk every couple of hours, although it only took about an ounce each time. As the hours passed, it actually took less and less milk.

Stefanie put the laundry basket with the piglet in her bedroom when she was ready to go to sleep. She woke up in the middle of the night to give the piglet more milk, but it was dead.

The best laid plan of farmers often mean nothing. I specifically did not want winter piglets for this very reason, which is why we had the boars and sows separated last fall until December. If only we had looked at the pig gestation calculator and marked the calendar for possible farrowing after the boars busted into the sows' pasture, things might have turned out differently. But that didn't happen. So, what can we do now?

We took a really close look at Alice, the other sow that was in the pasture with Rachel, and she looks pregnant. Her teats are starting to fill with milk, so she will probably be farrowing soon. We put her in the barn and are checking on her regularly. She's the one who loves belly rubs, so I just came inside after giving her big pregnant belly a rub down this evening and checking out her teats. They are not super full, so I'm hoping we won't get any piglets overnight. Since they weigh around a pound at birth, it would be good if we're there to dry them off when they're born because mama pigs don't clean their babies at birth.

She is in the big barn, which doesn't have any monitoring system. I would put her in the kidding barn, but it is all set for the six goats that will be giving birth in the next ten days, so there's no room for her. Unfortunately high temperatures are below freezing with lows in the single digits for the next week. Life is about to get really crazy around here.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Celebrating 10 years! and looking forward ...

Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of this little blog! If you're wondering how it all started, here is that rather pathetic little post. I wrote about Katherine and me taking a vacation and lamented the fact that when you live on a farm, it's tough for the whole family to take a vacation together. Unfortunately, we were never able to take a vacation together as a family ever again as the children were growing up. I'm still holding out hope that at some point, we'll have a trusted farm sitter, and even though our children are all grown up now, we will be able to take a family vacation at some point. But I digress ...

My blog is ten years old! Wow! Like any long-term commitment, it's had its ups and down. Some years have been better than others. I'm really proud of my 244 posts in 2009. I blogged two out of three days that year! On the other hand, I really am disappointed in myself for only posting 24 times last year. The thing is -- I love blogging on here! But once I started writing books, the blog fell on the back burner, even though it should not have.

I started blogging almost four years into our homesteading journey because a lot of friends kept telling me that I should write a book about my experiences. Problem was ... I knew that a book had to be more than just a bunch of charming little stories. A book has to have conflict and drama and a narrative arc, and it all has to be told in a unique voice. So, I started this blog to "find my voice." How was my writing uniquely me?

I guess that's the thing I loved about writing on here. I could be me. I didn't have a professor or editor telling me that I couldn't start a sentence with "and" or that I shouldn't use a cliche or that I wasn't being formal enough. This is where I really learned how to write in a conversational tone.

But is there a story here? That was the other reason I started blogging. I thought that by writing about some of the things that happen to us, I might find a story that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. We are not talking about the end of someone's life here. But the story has to have a satisfying end point. The funny thing about that is that I've found several possible end points. Will I ever write a memoir? Possibly.

In the meantime, we're busier than ever on the farm. Once our children left, we realized that either we had to cut back drastically -- or turn this into a real business. Because I'd feel selfish if I had my own private 32-acre park -- land that could be used to feed people organic food -- we opted for turning this into a real business.

So, I hope to continue blogging on here for many years to come!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

First babies of 2016!

Our new intern Stefanie took a walk this afternoon and came back to tell me that there were two lambs in the sheep pasture. What?! The sheep I just bought last month? They weren't supposed to be due until the end of February at the earliest. I had even said to the seller that one looked very pregnant, and she said, "Oh, she always looks like that."

We just happened to have three guests visiting at the moment, and they were totally excited about heading out to see the new lambs. I took a towel in case they still needed to be dried off a little. After arriving in the pasture, it took quite some time for Stefanie and I to get close enough to the lambs to be able to pick them up and figure out if they were rams or ewes. Since these are meat sheep, and I'm just starting my flock, either one is a win, as rams will be meat, and ewes will grow my flock of breeders. As it turned out, they are both ewes, so our little flock has already grown to five ewes in only one month!

Unfortunately, temperatures were in the 30s, and rain was in the forecast. Mama Star had given birth in the middle of the pasture with no wind blocks. The darker lamb was really shivering and not great at nursing. It appeared to be the younger of the two, as it was also still pretty wet. I was glad I'd brought the towel! I picked it up and towel dried it as much as I could. It was very happy to snuggle into my arms, so it was hard to put it down again, but I knew it really needed to nurse.

After a few more minutes, it finally nursed, and I was feeling pretty good about the situation. I know some people would have put mama and lambs into a barn or "jug," but it was a long way to the barn, and we had no halter with us, so it would have been just about impossible to take them. I told everyone that we'd go back to the house, and I'd check the barn to see if there was a place we could get ready for Star and her babies. I'd also think about strategy. I wasn't in a huge hurry because I wanted Star to have time to bond with her babies. I didn't want her to get freaked out about moving and reject the lambs.

As I was sitting in the house chatting and enjoying a cup of hot tea, Stefanie asked, "Is that rain?" I looked at the forecast on my phone, which said there was only a 40% chance of rain that hour, but who can argue with water falling from the sky? So, I called our other intern to help us, and the six of us headed back out to the pasture. We quickly caught the two lambs, but mama was not very happy about the situation. It took us quite a bit longer to catch her. Being new to our farm and us, she didn't entirely trust us yet.

We eventually got a halter on her. I knew she was not halter trained, but I figured it would be easier to hang on to the halter than simply her body as we tried to get her to follow us with her babies across the pasture and the front yard to the barn. It took about 30 minutes to cover a distance that normally takes only five, but we did it. Stefanie and I were each carrying a lamb, and the other intern and two of our guests were leading and pushing mama to follow us, while the third guest was closing gates behind us as we were crossing through multiple pastures. It was quite the team effort!

Once we got them all into a nice warm stall, we were a little worried about the black lamb as she just wanted to lay down and sleep. I'm very happy to report that she finally decided to get up and start nursing again as everyone was doing afternoon chores. So, I'm very optimistic that they'll do great.

Although our Shetlands always lambed on pasture with no help from us, we never lambed in January! Going forward, we certainly don't plan to have any January lambing in future years either. We got incredibly lucky that the weather is actually quite mild right now, although had they stayed out in the freezing rain, we still could have lost both lambs, so I'm very grateful that we found them when we did -- and that we had the help here to get them moved into the barn. I'm definitely sleeping better tonight knowing that they're inside.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Meet the new sheep

I had never eaten lamb in my life until we found ourselves with too many Shetland wethers, and I discovered that it is very tasty. Although I have more than enough wool to last me a lifetime, and there was no reason for us to have wool sheep, I knew I would miss the lamb meat. So, I've been looking at hair breeds of sheep for a few years now. Unlike wool sheep, they shed, so they don't have to be shorn.

Once the Shetlands were gone (other than the four I decided to keep as pets), I started perusing the Facebook sheep groups, and within a week, I found three pregnant sheep for sale about 60 miles away. After asking lots of questions about biosecurity issues, I decided to buy them.

My daughter Katherine was visiting from Colorado over the holidays, so she and I drove to pick them up.

This is Starburst, a pregnant 3-year-old Katahdin ewe looking at me, and the back end of her daughter Izzy, who is half Dorper. The black sheep in the photos below is Poppy, who is a half-sister to Izzy through their sire.

Since we bought only three Shetland ewes back in 2003 and never added to the flock, we were not accustomed to seeing new sheep introduced to a flock. They were a lot more like dogs meeting each other than goats. Goats always do a lot of head butting, but dogs sniff each other, which is what the sheep were doing.

We put the new sheep into a field that was next to the field where the Shetlands were grazing. First they sniffed each other through the fence, then the Shetlands realized they could go through the gate to get up close and personal with the new additions. Oscar the llama just kept looking at them over the fence.

So, after much sniffing of each other, they all walked off together to graze, and they've been happily grazing together ever since. The ewes are due to lamb anytime after late February. Hopefully we'll have good weather whenever it happens.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Ask me about my sheep

I don't even know how many times I've said I'm going to sell the Shetland sheep in the last few years. It's kind of embarrassing. I knew I needed to sell them. It just wasn't easy to find a suitable buyer. I am rather picky about who buys my animals. I feel responsible for them and want to be sure that they go to a home where they are appreciated for what they are.

I started writing the following blog post on December 10 but never actually posted it because before I could finish it, everything changed ...
I am facing a very difficult decision with the sheep. Since my daughters have moved away from home, the sheep are not appreciated as they once were. My daughters were into spinning, knitting, crocheting, and felting. Now one is an electrical engineer in Texas, and the other is a biological chemist in Colorado. And we have more wool than I will ever use in my lifetime. I've posted a flock liquidation sale post on Facebook a few times, and each time I get a few people asking questions, but no one actually buys any sheep. 
There is really no point in feeding 29 sheep through another winter when we have no need for their wool. I do want to keep Winnie and Kewanee, the twins that I bottlefed after their mother died, but other than that, the rest need to go somewhere. I am hesitant to send them to an auction because I'm worried that some moron will buy them who doesn't understand that you shouldn't breed a 300 pound ram to these little Shetland ewes. I've seen too many horror stories on Facebook about people breeding huge bucks to little Nigerian does. So, I am contemplating butchering them all. I doubt that will happen overnight though, so if you know anyone who wants some lovely fiber sheep, send them my way.
I had just posted a few more Facebook ads when I started working on that blog post, and within a couple of hours, I had several serious inquires, and before the sun set, 25 of the sheep were gone. The photo was taken that afternoon when we got them all rounded up and ready to load.

I kept the twins I mentioned, as well as an 11-year-old ewe named Cheyenne and a middle-aged ewe name Godiva who had mastitis last time she lambed, so I didn't want her to be bred again. They will be our school sheep. We can still talk about wool sheep and do a shearing demo as part of a sheep-to-shawl class. But there will be no more Shetland lambs. I am kind of sad about that because they are beautiful animals, and I will miss having them in the pasture.

Did you notice that I specified no more Shetland lambs? We will have lambs in the spring, and I'll tell you about that in a couple of days.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A difficult decision -- but the right one

On December 23, I sold Charlotte the goat. If you know who Charlotte is, you'll probably be shocked, but I know it was the right decision for her. Because she was a top milker in her prime, buyers have waited as long as a year or two to get a kid from her at $600 each, and since she always has three or four kids, she's been a very profitable goat. But I learned a long time ago that I should never make a decision based on money alone.

I asked the buyer to pick her up after my daughter Katherine was home for Christmas so that she could say good bye to Charlotte. The above photo was taken with Katherine just before Charlotte left. I've heard from her new owner already, and she is enjoying her new home, and her new owner is loving her. I wrote the following post on December 10, but never got around to posting it ...
I made a decision today that seemed difficult, although I know in my heart it's the right decision. About ten years ago, a young teenage girl bought four goats from me. Those goats have had the best life that anyone could ever hope for their goats to have. They've been well cared for and loved. One of them recently died, and the owner, who is now a young adult, called me and said she'd like to get another older goat to join the herd, so today she came over to pick out one of my retired does. I showed her three that I was willing to part with, but none of them were really striking a cord with her. 
Then Charlotte walked up to her and just stood there. As she started to pet her, you could see the magic happening. I never thought I would ever sell Charlotte. She spent the first month of her life living in my daughter's bedroom, and she was #1 on AGS's top ten list for one-day milk tests in her prime. But she's going to be 9 next year, and her last two kiddings have really taken a toll on her. I worry about her a lot. So, it makes sense to let her retire early and go to a farm that is basically the human equivalent of retiring at a lovely resort.


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