"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Visiting Billy

Just to try and tie up any loose ends, I had my neighbor bring over her billy goat, Kramer. I'll get a picture of him up soon, because he is just the cutest little thing. If I were a doe goat, I'd be all over him like white on rice, but oh no, not my pack of nasty nannies. They butted him all to hell and gone, didn't even let him spend the night in the barn. Whenever I go out there, he tries to hide behind me. 

I'm just going to have to make do with however many goats are pregnant and quit stressing already.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Is This Pony Pregnant?

When I bought Rosie Pony back in October (?), I was warned that there was a chance she was pregnant. She had "had access" to a stallion, but no-one had actually witnessed any breeding. Well, she's been getting fatter and fatter since she came to stay with us, and several horsey-type people who have seen her have said she is either severely overweight or pregnant. Or both, I suppose that's a possibility. What she could possibly be getting fat ON is a mystery to me, since all I give her is the same hay I feed the goats, which isn't really very good hay, and a handful of alfalfa pellets morning and evening. 

I kind of hope she's pregnant. 

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I Hate Breeding Goats

Xana is back in heat, along with Django and her baby Valentine. So far, we've paid $150 in breeding fees and had two failures that we know of and two other does which may or may not have caught pregnant. Theoretically, we get our money back if they aren't pregnant after three heat cycles, but that's the whole breeding season, and then we won't have any baby goats in the spring. And baby goats - and milk - are the whole point of this stinkin' operation.

Friday, December 26, 2008

One Giant Leap

Well, not really. This morning one of my minor fears came true: I was up in the hayloft getting some hay for the goats when the ladder fell down. No possible way to reach it. Hmmm, now what? 

Don't get me wrong, the barn is only sixteen feet from the floor to the tippy-top of the roofline. The hayloft is probably seven feet off the ground. But the days when I could hang from my hands off a flat ledge are long gone. Even my armpits is pushing it. It was jump or stay stuck. 

So I sat there for a few minutes. There were two unopened bales of hay up there with me; I thought if I could push them off onto the floor and get them to land more or less side by side then I'd have a platform to jump onto, only about a three foot drop then. I pushed the bales off, and they landed about four feet apart from one another, and moreover, they landed on their sides, so they'd be extra tippy. Now if I tried to jump onto a hay bale I'd almost certainly go over backwards and whack my head. Plus, the goats all rushed over and started eating the hay. I didn't want to land on a goat and kill it. 

More thinking. Then I saw the chicken's roost along one side of the barn. It's a twelve foot dowel affixed to the wall with little cross braces, but thankfully it's a 1 1/2 inch dowel and the cross braces are made out of pieces of 2x4. It does sag under the weight of twenty chickens, but I'd have to risk it. Hanging by my armpits, I managed to get one tippy toe on the dowel, and from there it was a piece of cake. Basically. Okay, so I got chicken shit on my ass. Big whoop.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Snowed in Again!

Unbelievable! Another seven or eight inches last night and still snowing like a mad bastard. When I went out to check on the animals, I was floundering around like a fish, wading through waist deep drifts. I have never seen this much snow in all my born days! Those are my front porch railings in the above picture, they are about chest height, so you can see how deep the drifts are. I absolutely hate to think about how much WATER there is going to be in a day or two when this all melts. It's warming up quick, up to 35 degrees now from a low of about 17 a few days ago, and they expect this snow to turn to rain any minute now.

And then freeze again, all over the roads, just in time for Christmas. Hooray, bumper cars!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Digging Out

The mountains are out today, for the first time in well over a week. It's been one record breaking day after another here, temperatures down in the teens, wind chill factors of negative 20, and approximately two feet of snow. It's kind of hard to tell how much snow we got up here, because of the wind. I have bare patches and drifts up to my waist. I can't open the gate to the alpacas, because it's buried in a deep drift which has frozen solid. I'm passing their food and water over the top of the fence. To think, I should be in tropical paradise right now. Well, okay, sure: I should be in my mother-in-law's house in a city which is not on the beach. But it is the tropics, anyway. 
Iris wearing polar fleece. I put polar fleece vests on Iris and Django, my two skinny does, and it seems to have worked great. They have both started to put on weight, finally. I was feeding them hot cooked oatmeal with raisins, and that didn't help until I got the jackets on them. Iris has been bred again, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that she took this time. Eeryone I know on Goatbeat (the goat-related forum I've joined) is having babies already, posting photos that just make me so jealous I could scream.
The front porch. 

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I Spoke Too Soon

Well, I'm not in Oaxaca. We are all still here enjoying the sub-zero wind chill factor. Travel document issue, and that's all I'm going to say about it. Well, that, and my husband is a mensch. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Adios, Snow!

Well, we're off, like a herd of turtles as my dear mother likes to say. Leaving the farm with a foot of snow on the ground, more snow and high winds forecasted for the next week, and the temperature reaching new record lows every day. Can't wait to fly over the tropic of capricorn and start enjoying some HEAT. 

Of course, I do worry about my animals here at home. Poor guys. Especially the pig. He's not very fat, despite the fact that he eats like a pig, and he has no hair. He's naked bacon out there, and all he has for warmth is a doghouse full of straw. I've been trying to make sure he has a bellyful of hot food twice a day, at least, but I feel like it's kind of a lot to ask my farmsitters to feed him hot cereal. 

The alpacas have finally been transferred to the field with the three sided shelter, and they have it all to themselves. At last they can get out of the wind. The goats and the pony are together with the chickens in the big barn, and the goats are wearing polar fleece vests (yes, I'll get pictures up as soon as I can) so I think they'll all be fine. 

The only other animals I have to worry about are the new chickens from my sister. They are total rejects, the other chickens won't even let them live in the barn. They've moved into the old pig house in the old pig pen. I don't worry about warmth, but they don't come out to eat withy the other chickens when I feed them. I have to toss them their own food, which, again, seems like a lot to ask the farm sitters. 

Ah well. If I can't let go once in a while, I'll never get a vacation ever again. The farmsitters are totally capable people. I'm sure my animals will all be alive when I get back!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Arctic Blast!

Whoo-hoo! When we were looking at this house, the house inspector, a local guy, warned us "you get a lot of weather up on this ridge," and man, are we getting some of it now! Apparently, we pay for our extremely beautiful views with extremely severe weather that only exists in a 1/4 mile circle around the top of this hill. Right now, there is something falling from the sky which I hesitate to call snow, as it seems to actually be teeny tiny razor blades flying horizontally through the air at 70 miles an hour. The wind is the most bonechilling that I have ever personally experienced. I got home a little late today and just drove straight out to the animals to give them their evening feed, and in the five minutes or so that it took me to throw food at everybody, my fingers went through various kinds of cold, on through hideous pain, all the way to completely numb. I had to soak them in ice water when I got back to the house. No more chores without gloves and a hat! The animal's water is frozen solid, so I'll have to start toting boiling water out in the mornings. But hey, at least the mud is finally frozen as well! Thank God for small favors!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Failed Goat Sex

Iris isn't pregnant. She is out there "flagging," waving her tail around to send a message to any nearby bucks that's she's ready and willing. She's also turned a lovely seashell pink back there and swollen up a bit... and the timing is right for her to come back into heat, so it's pretty certain she isn't pregnant. Drat. I wonder what the problem was? Avatar definitely did the deed several times, that wasn't the issue. We'll just have to try again, I guess.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Maximum Chicken

We have four new chickens. That's not actually a picture of any one of them (camera still broken) but it is a picture I got off the web of a chicken in full molt, just to give you an idea how completely pathetic these new chickens are. They were my sister's chickens. Her old, worn out chickens. No, they are perfectly good chickens, two barred rocks and two araucunas, about a year and a half old, just what you like in a laying hen. But back in september, she and Marcus bought a whole flock of pullets, ten big, shiny, late-model rhode island reds. They were gorgeous as chickens can be all right, they just had one teeny little problem: they didn't lay eggs.

They kept waiting. The lady they bought them from said, "oh, they'll start any day now, my other batch that is only three weeks older are laying already. They'll start!" September went by. October went by. November went by. It was maddening, watching all these big sleek hens eat a fortune in organic lay mash and produce nothing but copious amounts of birdshit. Meanwhile, at least they still had the original four, which kept popping out two or three eggs a week even as the sun started setting around 4:00 in the afternoon. Nice, reliable, ugly-as-sin chickens.

But my sister, God love her, is mightily swayed by appearances and she just didn't like the shabby old chickens. The minute the first big brown egg slid out of a big red butt (last week - go figure), she offered me the old chickens. Of course, I scooped them up. I can't resist a free animal, even a molty chicken. 

Of course, the day I went to get them it was raining cats and dogs. And even though they were in a little-bitty 4x8 foot coop, I still couldn't just reach in and grab them. They all scooched to the back and huddled there. My sister couldn't help me; she is genetically incapable of handling a live chicken. She's tried, but she just can't touch them. It's like me and big hairy spiders, I guess. So eventually I heaved a big sigh and crouched down and got INSIDE the coop, squeeing right up against the filthy perches and grabbed them one by one. As chickens do, they went bersek, flapping and churning up gobs of crap. By the time I had them all in the cage in my van, I was liberally plastered. Enough so that I had to call the kid's school and tell them I'd be late picking them up, since I had to take a shower and change. 

Hope they keep laying eggs over here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Vacation Expenses

My goodness, but leaving the farm is expensive. Luckily, the couple I found to farm-sit will work cheap: they are staying in the house twelve days and charging me $200. I might have been able to haggle more, but why? The kids need the money and I trust them, so it's worth it. Doubt I could find anyone cheaper anyway. It might be only 30 minutes of work or so a day, but it's cold nasty work, likely to leave you muddy and freezing. 

Then I had to stock up on feed. One bag each for the chickens, the pig, the goats, the alpacas, and the horse. $97. Feed is almost twice what it was this time last year. I guess that isn't really an expense, because I'd eventually buy all that feed anyway, but it is an outlay. I still need to get a couple bales of good hay, too. The hay we have now is, well, of uneven quality. Some bales are good, others not so good. I can tell the difference easily and use the poor hay as bedding and the good hay as feed, but it would be hard to explain to the sitters. Better to just get a few bales of good stuff and have them use that.

I also want to worm the goats before I go. I heard coughing yesterday. Just a little, but that means it's time now. two of my does are so skinny, and I just can't put weight on them. I don't think it's worms, I think it's damage from the time they got into the grain and were so sick, but worms won't help them gain weight, that's for sure. So a tube of Ivermectin: another $15.

What am I up to?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Taking a Break

We are leaving town on the 17th, going to Oaxaca for christmas, a two week vacation. I'm looking forward to the trip; we haven't been to Mexico since Bibi was just over a year old... how long is that? Oh my God, it's two and a half years. How the time does fly. Which is also how we are getting there this time; no more month long roadtrips. Can't do that when you have a farm!

I'm actually getting quite nervous about leaving the animals for so long. Many people answered my ad for house and farmsitting, and I spoke to several. The person I finally hired however was Michael, a boy I've used as a farmhand on several occasions in the past. He's done fencing for us, and done a fine job, always showing up on time and working hard. He doesn't know squat about animals though. But his girlfriend does, some, and they'll be staying here together the whole time. 

I had them out last week and walked them through the routine, but they will also need detailed written instructions.

Detailed Written Instructions

Mornings: Mudboots are in the playroom. Let the dogs out with you when you go out to do the feeding. If it froze during the night, fill three milk jugs with warm water. Distribute among pails. If it didn't freeze, try the hose, but I bet it's frozen. In the small barn there are four big blue snap-top containers. Each has a picture of an animal on the lid: that's the kind of food you'll find inside. Also inside each bin you'll find a scoop. That's the right amount of food for each animal (two scoops for the alpacas). Feed the pig first if you want him to stop screaming. Oh, if there were any dinner leftovers, toss 'em to the pig, too. The alpacas and the pony will tussle over food, even though each has their own bucket. Don't sweat it. Just toss the chicken food right out on the ground. Scatter it well or the horse will try and eat it. The goats have two buckets. Split their food between the two buckets so they can all get some. Careful of the electric fence. There are extra bags of each kind of food if you run out. Hay for the alpacas and the pony goes in the big barn on the wooden pallet. Altogether they need two or three flakes. The goats also need two flakes, please put it inside their field shelter. Check the barn for horse-poop and fork it out the window onto the compost pile. I always scatter a thin layer of clean hay in the nest boxes because I hate shitty eggs. If it's raining, close the windows. Call the dogs on your way back to the house, they run off sometimes. Better yet, when you first go out, you could put them in the goat enclosure with the goats. Feed them when you come back in. Only Ivory is allowed in the house, and she only because she has no fur and would freeze to death. Dog food is in the playroom by the fireplace. Oh don't forget the bunny. Just a big handful of his food which is under the hutch and make sure he has water.

Evenings: Hay for everybody, chicken food for the chickens, pig food for the pig. Try to get on it before dark so the chickens are awake.  

Aside from this, I'll need to write out instructions for the house: how to use the washing machine, TV remote, computer, etc. Please please please PLEASE remember to turn off the heat every time you leave the house so there's still propane when we get back. That kind of thing.

Before we go I must: put pictures of the animals on the feed bins and find the right scoops for each. Make sure there are enough water buckets and feed bins for everybody. Worm the goats. Write out phone numbers for the vet, my sister, and the neighbor. Try to quit freaking out. Breathe deeply. 

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Shock Happy

Hooray! The electric fence has been working for three whole days now! And the goats are starting to wise up. At first they were getting shocked right and left, especially Iris because she loves to climb the fences. I was so fed up with them I just laughed and laughed whenever I heard a big

"Ble-a-a-a-a-a-h!!" from their direction. Now I have to train myself not to touch the wire when I lean over the fence to feed them their grain.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Great Goat Escape

Nobody I know has the troubles I do with containing their livestock. Remember the chickens that almost started a neighborly feud? Remember when Xana kicked out a window of the barn and cut herself to ribbons? The piglet in the bathtub episode? 

Well, it's happening again. The goats are escaping. The twins were out yesterday, bleating to get back in, and tonight when I got home, four goats were out. The twins, Xana, and Iris! Iris is not a leaper, which makes me think they must have mashed the fence down somewhere, but it's too dark to see. I'll have to wait until morning. 

For now, I'll have to lock them in the big barn (and hope that Xana doesn't just kick out the other window!). I'm terrified of the highway that fronts our property. It's pretty well traveled at all times of night and people speed along at 65. The goats could all get mashed flat, and not only that, they could cause a dangerous accident. 

The lady who owns the buck I bred my does to this year is sending her husband tomorrow morning to help me get the fence working. Homero gave his consent for me to seek help elsewhere a couple of weeks ago, after a full day of failed-fence-fixing in the rain. I won't repeat his actual words here, but they were along the lines of "frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Confused about Conception

I'm confused about whether or not my does are bred. Let's see, Xana was bred over the course of four days starting about November 12th. Iris was bred on the 17th, and Flopsy, if she was bred at all, was bred a few days later than that. 

It's far too early for them to be back in heat if they were not pregnant. Well, Xana possibly. It's been 16 days since she was bred. But way too early for Iris. However, they both look sort of like they might be. Xana has a puffy pink vulva, just like when she actually is in heat. And Iris hasa little bit of yellowish goo stringing down from her vulva and a messy tail. Flopsy is the only one who looks totally ordinary and boring under there. 

If they aren't pregnant, I have one more try on Xana and two more on Iris and Flopsy paid for, but why wouldn't they be? The buck is proven; Iris is proven, and Xana and Flopsy are both nice healthy does, no reason to suspect they wouldn't be fertile.

Aargh. Goats.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Funny Farm Fotos

Not much going on on the farm these days. Just keeping up with feeding six goats, three of them pregnant; three alpacas; a pony; and one very hungry pig. It's starting to freeze every night, so pretty soon I'll be carrying warm water from the house and walking back with frozen pant legs. Can't wait. So far the hose is still working, long may it run!

My camera is still broken, likely to remain that way, so here are a few funny fotos gleaned from the collection on the computer.

          Old fashioned toys: the rock and the stick. The kids independently discover the fulcrum.

                                    Portrait of an alpaca. Benji withstands the weather. 

Teaching the goats tricks. Up!

The goats are tired of doing tricks. Give us that grain, boy!

Goat attack!!!!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


My camera is broken, so I can't show you all what a gorgeous day it is here (that's an old picture, above, but it gives you the gist.). The mountains are out, looking like cut crystal all along the northern horizon. Mt. Baker appears to be hovering right over my shoulder. It has been so warm that I have three new roses blooming on my rosebushes. Incredible. And it has been so dry that the mud is, well, not gone, but considerably less deep than it was last week. 

We've gotten a few things done while the weather has been nice. Homero blocked up the space under the barns, leaving a teeny tiny hole for the white rabbit to go in and out of (oh yeah, I think he owes me some money on that score...), however it's made no difference in the number of eggs we are collecting. Either the chickens just aren't laying or they are better egg hiders than we thought, the crafty things. 

All three does that I planned to breed this year are bred. I had our farm-sitter out to go over the ropes. We are going to be gone for over two weeks in December - christmas in Oaxaca. I'm a bit nervous about it, but you gotta leave the farm sometime.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Successful Goat Sex!

Yesterday we went to pick up Xana from the breeder, and brought Iris and Flopsy to be bred by the same buck. We hung around for a while talking and watching to see how things went. Iris was definitely in heat. Avatar got one whiff and wasted no time. 

This was my first observation of goat sex. It's absurdly hilarious. Avatar, a manly man if ever there was one, began by striking manly poses. He stuck out his hind legs, twisted his head sideways and froze into place like a Mr. Universe contestant. He gazed intently at Iris and advanced gradually, apparently trying to mesmerize her like Christopher Walken playing that scary European roue on Saturday Night Live. Finally he pranced up to Iris and began "blubbering," that is, flapping his tongue like a drunken frat boy at her ears, legs, and vulva until she decided he was sufficiently macho to father her babies and stood for him. 

The actual deed takes less than two seconds and appears to be rather painful for the doe. Avatar "closed the deal" at least three times in the twenty minutes we were chatting, and most likely we could have taken her home right then and there. However, Flopsy needs a day or two in the presence of Avatar's funky billy goat hormones in order to come into heat, and I thought she'd be happier and more comfortable with her mom around. Flopsy seemed to be in love with another buck, Kramer, but I want Avatar to breed her too. I feel awful about it though. She's so young and innocent and pretty, and I'm letting her be ravaged by this gigantic hairy cabron. I feel like I've just locked up a fourteen year old virgin in a brothel. 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Xana Update

Xana has been successfully bred! Well, of course I don't know if she's pregnant yet, but my friend told me she'd seen the buck mount at least six or seven times, and that Xana was in full standing heat. Now the buck is ignoring her, so either she's bred or has gone out of heat. Breeder says if she didn't take after four days with this proven buck, then she's not fertile. 

She also said "no offense, but that is hands down the most obnoxious goat I've ever seen. I'd definitely have eaten her if she were mine."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Unexpected Guest


Yesterday afternoon, as I sat here at the computer looking  out the window, I noticed a lady I almost recognized walking toward the door. I popped up and opened the door and she said "Remember me? The alpaca lady?" (Incidentally, when people say "remember me?" they ought to follow that question with their name. Just in case I don't.)

She (Of course, I can't remember her name, although I do remember what a nice lady she is. Alice?) had been driving by and decided to visit her alpacas, see how they were doing in their new home. "Oh of course," I said, mentally picturing her horror to see them as they look now - wet, tangled, stuck full of burrs, dirty. They were pristine at her ranch. Of course, they lived in a barn with concrete floors.

We walked out to the pasture and I locked up the goats so that we could feed the alpacas unmolested, and lo and behold, when she called their names they came trotting right up to her. Benji even let her pet him. "what nice fiber you have, Benji," she said, digging her fingers into his coat. 

"Does their fiber look about right," I asked, "I mean, for when they were last sheared?"

"Looks great. They look just great."

Phew! Still, I had to apologize about the burrs. "Look at Benji's head," I said. 

"Yeah, well. When you get him sheared next May, they'll just have to take off his whole topknot." 

They're gonna look so silly.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Goat Transfer Complete

I got Xana to the buck's place without mishap. In the end, the thought of a frightened 170 pound goat rocketing around the inside of the van untethered was too scary. Rowan helped me hoist the big dog crate into the van and pop the top off. Then it was just a matter of throwing some feed in the crate and letting Xana jump in by herself. We popped the top back over her and tried to smoosh it down far enough for the clips to lock, but she didn't cooperate. Standing up, she's too tall. The whole contraption kind of looked like a weird turtle. By exerting extreme pressure on the top  (sitting on it), we managed to convince Xana to lay down, and after that it was easy. 

I almost felt sorry for her. She cried piteously on the way over, and when we left her alone with the buck (Buddy, still a cute little baby) and walked away she screamed and yelled. She's an obnoxious goat, but I felt bad. 

One good thing: I got to take a look at their Nubian buck, Avatar. He's big, brawny, but not ugly. He's actually quite a nice looking goat. I think he'll do fine for Iris and Flopsy in a little while.

Minor Changes

Whew, I just read back over some previous posts, and man have I been in a bad mood. It hasn't been all quite as relentlessly awful as this blog has made it sound, however. Really. It helps that we have a bright blue shy at the moment, predicted to last nearly all day before the next storm front moves in. The weather man was using his "Big Storm" voice, though, so I expect it will be a bad one. Ah well, I'll just try to spend as much time as I can outside today.

I came up with an idea to make mucking out easier. As I think I mentioned in a previous post, there is  no way to maneuver a wheelbarrow in the barnyard right now. And I think I also mentioned that the pig no longer lives in his pen, since he would drown in his own muck if he did. So it occurred to me that I could use the empty pigpen for my compost pile. It abuts the barn, and one of the barn windows is perfectly situated for forking the dirty straw right out. Presto: no wheelbarrow, much cleaner, dryer, less smelly barn. And there's a fence around the pen, so the animals can't climb all over the compost, except for the chickens of course. 

Homero and I moved the remaining bunny, hutch and all, onto the back porch. It was quite a job carrying the hutch - which is pretty large and very heavy - through the gates and 300 feet to the house. The idea is to get the little girls more involved in taking care of their animal and to provide the bunny a little stimulation now and then, instead of letting it waste away of loneliness and boredom all alone in it's hutch. I'm fairly certain we aren't going to recover the white bunny, certain enough to bet Homero $100. He spent a half hour or so trying, and did manage to drive the bunny out from under the barn twice and onto open ground, but he wasn't able to net it either time before it dashed under the other, bigger barn. We really have to figure out a way to block up the space under the barns. During Operation Bunny Homero discovered several large clutches of eggs under there. 

I also managed to get the pony into the smaller pasture with the new field shelter in it. It's much drier there, no mud at all, much better for her hooves. Homero and I attempted to get the alpacas in there as well, but no dice. I have no idea how we will ever move them, or trap them for shearing. Instead I gave her two goats for companionship, Xango and her daughter Valentine. These are the only two does I won't be breeding this year, so if I get a buck on the place I can just put him in with the other three girls and let him have at it.

Speaking of which, I am bringing Xana to a buck this afternoon. When Rowan gets home, I'll have her watch the little kids and take the van with the goat in it. I'm hoping she won't hurt herself or me on the trip. It's not very far.

I know, I'm dubious too, but I have no other options.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Stinkiest Day Ever

This is shaping up to be the stinkiest day ever. After the pigpen incident ofd the morning, I thought things couldn't get worse. But just an hour ago, Lancelot got sprayed full on in the face by a skunk, from about two inches away. Of course I didn't let him in the house, but still, the whole place is majorly stinky. And will be for weeks, probably. For those of you who don't know, Lancelot is a Scottish Collie, and has approximately fifty-two pounds of fur.

Oh Gross

I fell down in the pigpen. Fell right on my butt. Made a big brown splash. I almost barfed in my lap. 

I had to strip down and walk back in the house butt naked. After my forty minute shower, I feel close to clean again, but my clothes went straight into the trash.

I sure love farming, I surely do. 

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rain, Rain

The weather report predicts heavy rain through the weekend. I don't see how it can get any wetter at this point, so I'm kind of indifferent.

Homero shoveled enough rock to make a couple of paths through the gunk. I saw that the pony was actually inside the barn with the goats, but she didn't look happy about it. The alpacas sit on their chests, tails to the wind, close their eyes, and just let it all wash over them. I hope they don't get sick.

The chickens mostly stay inside the barn, which means extra-fast pile up of poop, but still no eggs. When they come out to eat, their feathers blow all over the place and they look ragged and flimsy. I can't empty the barn of the compost pile in the corner, because there's absolutely no way of maneuvering a wheelbarrow  in the barnyard. I may have to wait until it freezes solid.

That would be a relief.

Monday, November 3, 2008

November Blues

Nothing works on the farm. The electric fence is still broke, despite two temper tantrums on my part and a first class marital spat. Homero didn't agree with me that an electric fence is supposed to deliver shocks EACH and EVERY time you touch it. He declared the fence fixed even though it delivered only a low-grade buzz that was rather more stimulating than painful, and then once every three minutes or so, a fat jolt that made your arm fly involuntarily up in the air. Currently (no pun intended), the shock-box has been taken down and apart to see what the hell is wrong with it, and I doubt it will be put back up before spring.

Unless I secretly hire someone and risk a major fight in favor of a working fence.

I had four yards of drain rock delivered, a week and a half ago, and it is still in a big pile doing nothing to solve the mud problem because I hurt my back and can't spread it out. Homero says he will do it "soon." Maybe my back will heal "sooner." I don't think I bought enough rock, anyway, because the mud is OUT of HAND. It is well over ankle deep, and it is getting pretty difficult to traverse some areas without losing a gumboot. All in all, the farmyard is a wet, stinky, disgusting swamp, and nobody wants to be there, animals included.

I haven't closed the pig in his pen since it started raining. It would be inhumane. He sleeps in the barn with the goats, making himself a big old pile of straw (compost) and digging a kind of trench in it to bury himself in. He's really a very cute pig, and nice as pigs go, and I'm starting to feel bad about eating him. Though I did buy a book yesterday called "Home Sausage-Making."

The catch pen, which was meant for the pony, is the wettest part of the yard, oddly and frustratingly. Rain pools right under the roof, and it's useless as a pony pen. The poor pony would be standing in water up to her knees. But, like the alpacas, she doesn't like to go in the barn, so she stays out in the rain. 

The alpacas are the saddest, most bedraggled looking things I've ever seen. 

The white rabbit escaped and is gone. The brown rabbit is all alone, and seems miserable and lonely. I'm projecting.

No eggs in quite a while.

I hate this time of year.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Breeding Goats is No Fun

I'm having the most difficulty finding a buck to breed my does. I never thought it would be this hard. Goat sex is a natural thing, right? There are a couple of problems: finding a suitable buck, and dealing with the owners. I want to breed my does to a Boer this year, a meat goat, because I don't want to keep any kids. My herd is big enough for now. My milkers are young and healthy, and I'll keep the same ones for a few years, I just want them freshened. So I might as well breed kids that will be good eating.

Boer bucks are fairly thin on the ground. There was Buddy the baby billy, who didn't know what to do with a doe. Technically, they still owe me a breeding; maybe he's learned a little something by now. I've spoken with a couple of other owners, who sound gung-ho on the phone but then fail to call me back. That's happened two or three times.

Then there's the issue of CAE. Caprine Arthritic....Encephalitis? Oh, I'd have to look it up. But it's a sexually transmitted virus that causes crippling arthritis. It is also transmitted through milk to kids, so if you have it in your herd, you can't let does raise their own kids, you have to bottle feed. Which, of course, also means you are committed to milking twice a day for the length of a ten month lactation. So quite apart from the issue of the goats' health, you can see why I don't want CAE in my herd. Goat owners are divided into two camps: those who don't test and don't care, and those who test obsessively and demand documentation in triplicate before they'll let their goats touch your goats with a ten foot pole. 

My goats are all either tested or from a closed herd, but I don't have documentation for all the goats on my farm, so that means I can't get breeding from an obsessive type. And I, while I don't want to be an obsessive type, kind of have to be if I don't want to be chained to the milking stand all next year. So I've been asking for test results on bucks (even offering to pay for them), and getting the brush off. Meat goat people don't bother testing because the kids are all doomed to be eaten long before CAE would become a problem for them, and nobody milks the dams. 

I did talk to a kid tonight (FFA) who has a Boer and is willing to get him tested if I pay half. But of course, my doe is in heat NOW, and test results don't come back for a few days, so we're looking at the next breeding cycle, in 18-23 days. 

Oh, and there's the issue of the electric fence. It doesn't work and we can't figure out why. Without a working electric fence, I doubt we can control who breeds with who when.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fall Color

I wish I had taken these photos on the farm, but I don't have any lovely trees like these. I took these pictures down the street a ways. Wonderful that we still have days like this so late in the fall. Thank God! No matter how stressful or harried my day is, all I have to do is look up through these leaves at the sky and I am instantly peaceful and happy.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hooray for Mushrooms!

The mushrooms in the picture in the last post are, according to the experts at the mushroom festival, Shaggy Mane mushrooms, part of the Inky Cap group, rated as "edible and choice." That means yummy, but you have to gather them while they are still closed and cylindrical, and that phase lasts only a day or two. After that, they deliquesce. That means turn into horrible black, stinky runny toadstools. Which, unfortunately, has already happened to most of mine this year. Oh well, now I know. I'll be out there with a paring knife after the first rains next year. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mud and Mushrooms

What to do about mud? The recent rains have turned the barnyard into the most disgusting mire. Calling it mud is just a euphemism; it's really more like liquid zoo-doo. There is apparently no drainage at all out in front of the barns. It just puddles up and stays there. I have admittedly made things worse by spreading around the dirty straw. I thought it would soak it up and compact, but it just makes everything deeper. Homero spread two pick-up truckloads of gravel, which was just enough to make slender paths from the gate to each of the two barn doors. I think I'm going to have a big pile of gravel delivered. I know it's expensive, but holy sh.....

The rain has also brought forth the mushrooms. This cute little clump is actually part of a much larger patch of huge, shaggy, rapidly decomposing toadstools, which aren't cute at all. There is a mushroom festival this weekend somewhere in town, this just reminded me. I think I'll go take pictures of all the different mushrooms I can find on the property and try to identify them at the shroom show.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Evil Doe

I must get rid of Xana. There is nothing good about that goat, nothing. Well, okay, she's big and healthy. But she's a big, healthy pain in the butt. Xana is the destroyer of fences, and now she has taught the nubian twins to destroy fences, too. Believe me, there are plenty of things I would rather do than fix fences in the freezing cold. Which is what I was doing today. And catching escaped goats, which is no fun, either. They are really so much faster and more nimble than I. They hardly ever fall down in the mud. 

Plus, Xana gives no obvious signs of being in heat. She should have come back into heat about 10 days ago, and who knows? Maybe she did. I didn't notice. Theoretically, goats are supposed to scream and flip their tails around when they go into heat, but so far this year, I haven't noticed anybody acting that way. How am I going to get them bred? I going to have to buy a billy, or lease one for the season, I guess.

These goats are not currently worth the aggravation. It's so dark in the mornings - and cold -that I haven't bothered to separate the babies or milk the mamas. I don't want to try to milk goats in the dark with numb, frozen fingers. Sounds like a recipe for disaster. I'm running out of my last gallon of milk and my last pound of cheese, so we'll soon find out which of my vices is stronger: Laziness or miserliness.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Holy Steer

         What approximately 150 pounds of grass fed steer looks like.

                                Filet Mignon in red wine caper sauce

Today we picked up our beef from Keizer meats. My sister's family came with us to pick up their half of the half. It turned out to be a bit more expensive than we had figured, for two reasons. Our steer just happened to be a big one, weighing in at over 900 pounds hanging weight. My neighbor had told me they usually dress out at around 600. Each of our quarters weighed 247 pounds. That's a lot more cut and wrap fee than we had anticipated. Also, there is more waste on a cow than there is on a hog. From our hog, we got about 80% of the hanging weight back in meat, but a steer yields more like 55-60%. Instead of paying $2.30 a pound, we are paying about $4.00.

But still. Go price grass fed beef at your local grocery store. Oh wait, you probably can't find any. 

In preparation for this day, I hadn't bought any beef in weeks. I wanted to be hungry for it. Deciding what to cook for dinner tonight took me a few minutes. Of course I went right for the Filet Mignon (which they label tenderloin steak). I also grabbed a package of short ribs. My brother-in-law Marcus opted to take his ribs in a big old barbecue slab, but I chose to have mine cut into more manageable portions. I snarfed my filet just a few minutes ago (that plate in the picture didn't last long), but the ribs are braising in the oven in a bath of barbecue sauce made from cider vinegar, soy, siracha, garlic, mustard, ketchup and honey. Homero ought to be home in about two hours, which sounds like perfect timing.

Filet Mignon in red wine caper sauce

two or three or four 8 ounce filet mignon steaks, 3/4 inch
olive oil
3 0r 4 tablespoons butter 
1/2 cup red wine
tablespoon or two of capers (rinsed, or the sauce will be too salty)
tablespoon or two of heavy cream
chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet until very hot, almost smoking. Salt and pepper steaks on both sides, and lay in pan. Let a nice crust form, then flip. Cook to desired doneness, but anything beyond medium is a crying shame. 
Set steaks aside, lower heat to medium-low and add half of the butter and the rinsed capers. 
When butter is foamy, add wine and let simmer for a few minutes until slightly reduced. Add the rest of the butter in small pieces, stirring with a wooden spoon, and last the cream. Put sauce on plates, steak on sauce, and shower with finely minced parsley.

First Frost

The night before last was the first frost; not a very hard frost, but then last night was harder. I feel so bad for the baby goats, I've been separating them at night in the new field shelter, which has a gap running all the way around on the bottom. I'll need to insulate it somehow, probably with straw bales. Valentine was all fluffed up in the morning. The Nubian twins have short, sleek hair and can't fluff. But they are fat enough to be insulated.

The frost also means we have to start using our hay. I hadn't been giving anybody any hay, because everyone was looking so fat - especially the goats - on pure pasture. But after the frost, the grass loses most of it's nutritional value, even if it looks as green as ever. Also I'll be moving all the goats to the new enclosure for the winter, which doesn't have very much browse, so they'll need more hay. I think I'll most likely go through a bale in three days. I have seventeen bales, plus the loose hay we put up from the small field, so I'm hoping that will take us through December. Maybe not.

Hay is so expensive. Next year, I'm going to use the whole front field as hay and just not have any lawn. I've never been a big lawn fan anyway. If you want it to look nice it takes so much work and so many chemicals. Then you have to mow it and mow it, using gasoline and spewing pollutants. For what? A smooth green expanse of poison. (Of course, I never used chemicals on our lawn, which is why it was yellow instead of green - field of pure dandelions. But you get the point.) I'd rather make the space productive and use it as animal feed. We ought to get twenty bales off it, easily. That saves me about $120, well, minus whatever I pay the neighbor to bale it.

It is still gorgeous outside. I'm going out to enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Really Good Day

Today was beautiful. Blustery, but sunny, and warm enough to wear a T-shirt. I felt like working outside. I finally tore out the remains of the garden (the tomatoes were disgusting, oozy and slug-eaten.), cleaned up all the tar paper that blew off of the new shelter in last night's windstorm, and mucked out the barns. Then I decided to let the goats out for one last go at the blackberries.

As I followed them around, I noticed that there were actually quite a few blackberries left on the bushes, and the goats were in heaven munching them up. None the worse for wear after their scare a few days ago - you never saw such happy goats. Well I wasn't going to let the goats have all the last blackberries of the year; I ran for a bowl. I think I picked about a gallon of blackberries. Some of them were pretty mushy, it's true, but they weren't moldy and they still had that intoxicating deep purple scent. They weren't really good enough for eating out of hand, but I made three pints of blackberry jam.

It was a day for finishing things off. The last of the pears went into pear-applesauce; a bowl of beautiful and very, very ripe plums went into a plum upside down cake. The last tomatoes, which had been sitting on the counter ripening for a week or so, went into a fiery cooked salsa. 

Talking with my Dad on the phone today, I went over my stores of food that I have put up myself this year. There are 10 pints of strawberry jam, 6 pints of raspberry jam, and 12 pints of rhubarb sauce (okay, there are 24 cups. But I didn't want to sound like a maniac). And as of today, 3 pints of blackberry jam. That's enough jam to take us to doomsday, I know, so I'll have to make christmas presents out of it. There are 10 pints of cajeta, but it seems to have separated in the jars and I'm not sure I like the looks of it. There are six quarts of pickled beets, three pints of pickled green beans, and six of pickles, three dill and three bread and butter. Can you tell, I didn't have a pressure canner, so everything is water-bath safe. 

In the freezer we have about a dozen quart-sized ziploc bags of blueberries, and the same of strawberries. There are a few bags of chopped kale, too. There is approximately twenty pounds of pork left, mostly ham and sausage. I may yet add some frozen corn kernels. The corn is still standing in the fields, so I assume I'll see some at farm stands soon. And of course, apple season is only half over. I talked to my neighbor over the fence today and she repeated the invitation to come take as many apples as we want. I think my hard cider experiment was a flop, but there's room in the freezer for several gallons of sweet.

I'm so glad I had this day. I had been mentally begging for just a little bit more summer, a little bit more warmth, feeling like I wasn't ready for the sun to leave yet, I hadn't stored enough solar energy to make it through the winter. Working out in the sun all day today went a long way. Someone was listening. Thank you!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Kids are Allright

Thank God, the goats are going to be just fine. In fact, they never got sick at all, as far as I could tell. I found the goats standing over the open chicken food bin at about 8 o'clock in the morning, and the vet was out by nine. We spent the next hour and a half wrestling them into a corner, putting a tube into their stomaches, and drenching them with approximately a quart each of mineral oil and activated charcoal. This was no easy task, and by the time it was over, I was so oily that the filth and muck practically slid right off me. Also bruised and bitten. The vet looked slightly only slightly better. She, of course, was wearing the right gear; a full body slicker. 

In addition to the oil and charcoal, each goat was given an injection of Betamine, which according to a google search is just thiamine, or vitamin B1. Hmm. She told me what it was for but I can't remember now. It's been a long day. Then the goats were let out on the pasture and never looked back. They might have been slightly lethargic for a while, but they certainly never vomited and they didn't have diarrhea, either. Just a lot of very slippery pellets. 

Maybe I found them only minutes after they spilt the chicken food. Maybe they didn't eat very much. In any case, I am taking no more chances. The food is now outside the main fence, where nobody can get at it. And there it will stay until I have made the barn one hundred percent goat-proof, beyond any shadow of a doubt.

We dodged a bullet today, apparently, and by sheer luck my goats are alive. I am so relieved and so thankful, and so very very tired.

Terrible Day

All my goats might die, and it's my fault. They got into the small barn, where we keep the feed, AGAIN, and this time they got into the chicken food. Chicken food is the worst thing a goat can possibly eat, as little as a half pound can kill a full grown goat, and between the six of them, they ate 10 pounds or more. They managed to knock the chicken food bin off the shelf and the top must have popped off when it hit the floor.

The barn has two latches on it, and the feed is kept in snap top bins up on a shelf, but it's clearly not good enough. Iris, my Nubian mama, can open the bottom latch, and recently the top latch got bent out of shape and she could open that, too. I asked Homero last weekend to put a new latch on, higher up where she can't reach, but he just banged on the old latch with a rock and said it was fixed. It did hold, and I watched Iris try to open it and fail, so I went along even though I really felt we needed a new and better placed latch.

That's why this is my fault. They are MY goats, not Homero's. If I felt the lock was not good enough, then I should have fixed it. They are my responsibility, and I didn't protect them, because I'm lazy and I didn't want to argue with my husband and I'm afraid of power tools.  

The vet is on his way right now, and we will do what can be done, which is to pump mineral oil and activated charcoal directly into their stomaches. Then we wait. 

I'll never forgive myself if I've killed all my goats. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Piles of Pears!

Help! All the pears ripened at once! We have about seventy-five perfectly ripe, delicious pears! My dehydrator is full of pear slices, my oven is full of pear slices (at 170 degrees, it works just like a dehydrator), I made pear-ginger loaf for dessert tonight, and we are all sick to death of eating them out of hand. I'm trying to push some of them into the trade network, but it has to happen FAST. A pear goes from perfect to past-perfect in no time flat. 

Next year we will be smarter; we will pick them five at a time off the tree.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Local Beef

My neighbors across the street have been raising beef cattle for nearly fifty years. These lovely polled Herefords enjoy unlimited pasture, the freedom to raise their own calves, run and wander at will, and generally live a pretty natural and happy life for a cow, right up until the end. They are completely grass raised and grass finished, never grain fattened or sent to a feedlot. When the time comes, the knackerman comes and collects them right off the field. 

Choosing one of these animals to be our meat for the year (along with our own pork, chicken, and kid) fulfills several goals. I couldn't possibly eat more locally; I've been looking at these cows out my window all year. I get to support two local family owned businesses: my neighbor's, and Keizer meats, the slaughterer and butcher. There is a great feeling of security in having a whole winter's worth of food in the house. I know for a fact that the animal I am going to eat has been humanely raised. And I get to refrain from participation in the feedlot system that is so incredibly detrimental to the environment, as well as being horrifically cruel to the animals involved.

And for those who say "All very well, but isn't it more expensive?", be informed that I am paying $2.25 a pound for my side of beef, which includes plenty of  filet mignon and prime rib as well as hamburger and stew meat. My steer was picked up for slaughter Saturday, and I ought be able to collect it in about two weeks. I can't wait. Every time I look out the window, I practically drool.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Local Food Trade Network Success Story!

All year long, I've been trying to source as much food as possible from within the county. I go to farmer's markets, and search for "locally grown" labels on produce at the supermarket, and of course our farm produces all the eggs and milk products we need. More, in fact. So much more that I instituted the trade system! Since about May, I've been trading our excess eggs for organic produce from local gardeners, and occasionally for such treats as homemade marshmallows (Thanks, Phil!).  I think this has been a good deal for everyone involved, even if there was occasionally more kale in the fridge than any one family could reasonably eat. 

But not until yesterday did the trade system really score a big bonanza. A friend who pressed cider with us last year called to say she had 13 pounds of fresh chantrelles, which she picked herself just the day before. Well much as I love mushrooms, and I do, 13 pounds is a bit much. But we got one brown paper bag full to the top, maybe three pounds, in exchange for a pound of chevre, a dozen eggs, and a package of bacon from our hog. As you can see, they are beautiful! Just setting them on the counter perfumes the whole kitchen with a lovely light, spicy, woodsy scent. I couldn't wait, and had a mushroom breakfast this morning.

Chantrelle Breakfast Burrito:

Heat up a large cast iron skillet with just a tiny smear of olive oil, almost dry. Roughly chop a big handful of fresh, clean chantrelles and dry-fry over pretty high heat. They will give off a lot of moisture. Just keep turning them while this moisture boils off. When they are starting to look a little dryer, maybe ten minutes, add a tablespoon or so of finely minced onion, salt and pepper. In a separate pan, melt a tablespoon of butter over medium low heat. Add two lightly beaten eggs. If you have some you gathered the same morning, so much the better. When eggs begin to set around the edges, add mushrooms and a tablespoon or so of grated asiago or pecorino romano cheese and some finely chopped parsley. There is a high mushroom to egg ratio here; the eggs and cheese are sort of a binder to hold a bunch of chantrelles together.Do not overcook! Eggs should be soft. Right on the burner or in a dry skillet, heat a flour tortilla until browned in spots, about 15 seconds each side. Put tortilla on plate and eggs on tortilla!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pear Problem Solved, and Cidering in the Rain

Well, that took all of three minutes. 

I should have done my google search before I wrote the last post and revealed myself as a fruit ignoramus. Pears, apparently, do not really ripen on the tree at all, and ONLY ripen after picking. I just have to wait. If I am impatient (what do you think, kids?) I can put them in a paper bag with a ripe banana.

Meanwhile, I have lots of nice apple cider to drink. A family with four kids came out today with fully a bushel of apples and we pressed for two hours, even though the rain was varying in intensity between drizzle and downpour. The cider is probably slightly dilute, but man is it delicious. I guess the apples are finally ripening up. I've been so impatient for cider that I've been using apples that aren't totally ready, with predictably disappointing results. But this cider - mostly Gravenstein, I think - is great. I'm going to heat some up with cinnamon and cloves and see if it doesn't help the nasty head cold I'm developing from standing around in the cold rain like an idiot.

Pears Aplenty

Early this past spring, I hired a guy to come out and see what he could do with the lovely antique pear tree that shades the garage. Last summer, it had produced only about a dozen little, gnarled pears, and I wondered if it might be made to do better. The man said it was in fine shape, and ought to bear many more pears after a good pruning. Then he basically shaved the poor tree and left it bare naked. I thought he'd killed it, but he was right.

I've been watching the pears get bigger all summer, happy to see that there are indeed many, many more of them. This past week I thought they were looking pretty full sized, so I went over to investigate and saw, to my surprise, that they were already falling off the tree of their own accord. So I picked all of them that I could reach. I don't know, technically, how much a bushel is, but I bet it's not twice as many.

I don't understand these pears. They are big, bigger than most grocery store pears, but they are all hard as rocks. You can bite into them, barely, but the flesh is dry and crumbly, not nice at all. I poured them into a drawer for storage, and they made clinking sounds, I kid you not, as they tumbled together. I don't have the vaguest notion what to do with them. I need to look in a book and see if pears ripen off the tree or not. Maybe I could boil them and can them in syrup? 

Maybe I could buy a slingshot and keep them by the bed as personal protection.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pony Love

Silly me, I thought I was getting a pony for my kids. I'm sure my mother, the psychologist, could have told me otherwise. In actual fact, I was putting the finishing touch on my recreation of the happiest aspect of my childhood. Hey, most people helplessly recreate the worst aspects, right? I'm ahead of the game.

After I dropped the children off at school this morning, I rushed back to spend time with Rosie. Mostly I just sat on a bucket in the stall with her, patting her shoulder and her neck, whispering baby-talk-like nonsense, and enjoying a lot of wonderful memories of Bonnie Pony, the gorgeous red-gold palomino shetland-welsh cross I grew up with. I remembered lying down with her in the big field in summer, my back against the warm bulk of her ribs, reading a book. I remembered leaning on the fence at her favorite place under the tree and scratching her back. Trying to barrel-race. Trying to jump. Walking her down to the bottom of the hill, then turning her around and galloping back up as fast as we could go. The time  we were cantering across the field and I saw a garter snake, and just threw myself off her back onto the ground to catch it (my brother and I had a running contest that summer). Getting bucked off, over and over again, until I could land on my feet with the reins in my hands. Crying and crying when we moved and had to give her away. I know I was too big for her by then, but it was still so hard. 

Okay, I had to take a minute there.  I really miss that horse, even now. I wish I had a picture of her, she was so beautiful. Really, much prettier than Rosie, who is a very ordinary little pony. But that doesn't matter. She can still become a little girl's best friend.

Hello, Rosie!

Some people have suggested - people in my own family! - that I might have a little bit of a problem.  An animal addiction. I'm a junky, it's been suggested, scrutinizing craigslist long into the night, neglecting my children, letting dinner burn on the stove while I hunt frantically for more goats, more alpacas, more chickens, more more more! 

I told these people they were out of their tiny little minds, that they simply couldn't appreciate the beauty of a small agricultural enterprise, and that they sure liked to slurp up the eggs that MY too numerous chickens were popping out, so why don't they go away and leave me to the cool blue glow of my computer screen?

Well, the scales have been lifted from my eyes. Yes, I have officially gone too far. Meet Rosie, an 8 year old shetland pony. Isn't she adorable? Isn't she just perfect? Okay, I know I've said this before, but I really, really am done now. The farm is complete.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Blackberry Season Cut Short

One day late last week, I picked a big bowlful of blackberries. I felt a sense of urgency; rain was in the forecast, and I knew that this late in the season, a good hard rain will mean the end of the season. Any berries left on the vine will mold, if they are ripe, or never ripen, if they are green. And the early berry season was annihilated  by an unseasonable downpour in July. I haven't had the chance to eat my fill of blackberries this year. So I really got in there, I pushed and stomped and carried some clippers with me to get right in the middle of some good bushes. Got enough for a pie, and to freeze a few, too. Got good and scratched up. You haven't really been berry picking unless you bleed. Then I set the bowl down on the ground and the goats knocked it over and trampled them. 

                                                          Volunteer Sunflower

The rain began this morning. It was time; it was past time. My fruit trees needed water (I have yet to work out a good watering system for the orchard. The hose doesn't reach and we have to water with buckets, which means we don't water often enough.). We haven't had measurable rain at all in September. Rain is inevitable; you have to make your peace with it or move away. But I'm just not ready this year. Spring was so long, so wet, and so cold. It was so dark and damp.  I feel like there was barely enough summer to dry out, not enough warmth and light to sustain us through a long winter. I want an Indian Summer. Please, is anybody listening?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Two Girls on a Gate

      Hope and Paloma test out the gate of the alpaca catch pen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Haying and Playing: part two

Today was a hard-work day, but a really good one. I found some good, cheap hay on Craigslist and had it delivered, and the first order of business was getting 20 sixty-pound bales of hay up into the hayloft. That left us pretty tired for a while. Homero was thoroughly coated in hay particles glued all over him with sweat. He looked like a cake with coconut frosting. 

Then I discovered that we had a fair amount of fence repair to do. There is a section of fence that runs alongside a wall of blackberries, and the goats have been mashing it down to get at them. I suspect Xana: she's the worst fence jumper. Plus I hate her. We had to drive six new stakes and try to pull the mashed fence back up and affix it to the stakes. Hard work in the heat of the afternoon. But we recuperated after a cold beer and spent the evening paying with the animals.

Homero let the pig out for the first time. When he picked it up to put it over the fence, it screamed like you would not believe! Oddly, the alpacas hated the very sight of the pig, or seemed to, and chased him around the barnyard aggressively, kicking and making weird alpaca noises. I don't know if they just never noticed him before behind his fence, or if they thought he was an intruder or what, but we had to put him back in his pen or he would have got his little pink ass kicked. 

Homero has been teaching the goats tricks. The trick they are best at is standing up on their hind legs and walking; and shaking hands, which means pawing at your knees with their sharp hooves. We all wish he hadn't taught them that trick. Sometimes the goats get a little over enthusiastic. 

A day like this makes me really happy. Not that nothing bad happened; I picked a whole bowl of blackberries, getting quite scratched up in the process and then the goats knocked them over on the ground. I burned some food. The toilet overflowed. But that's life, you mop it up. 

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Littlest Billy Goat Gruff

Buddy is a purebred Boer, which is a meat goat. I have only two goats to breed this year: Xana, my big mean ugly LaMancha, and Flopsy, the girl-twin out of Iris, a purebred Nubian from excellent lines. Flopsy won't be ready to breed until December (she's too young, still) but Xana is ready now. 

Xana is my least favorite goat. She is fat, mean, and ugly. She butts the other goats and bosses them around, she jumps over every fence we own, even electric ones, and she is very hard to catch. She's not friendly, and I don't really want any more like her. That's why I decided to breed her to a Boer. Her babies will be meat, and I'll get the milk.

I know, I'm awful. But this is a farm, after all, and there are some hard realities to confront. One of them is, all baby goats are cute, but they don't all grow up into goats you want to keep. 

But the point may be moot. This buck we are leasing turned out to be a baby. They say he is nine months old, but I don't believe it. He's even smaller than Nutmeg and Flopsy, who are only five months old. And he's terrified of Xana. The first time he dared to try to sniff her nether regions, she turned on him and butted him all across the field. Bitch. 

I'm pretty sure she is in heat; she's more aggressive than usual and she has a puffy vulva and discharge. But she's not interested in any puny little baby billy. Maybe I need a cabron sazonado, a real rutting buck. (Ooh, out of context, that sounds bad.) 

Or maybe I should forget about little baby meat goats and just turn 150 pounds of nasty nanny into meat right now.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Apple Overload

   Apples and equipment are sterilized in a very dilute bleach-water bath

   Hot day + hard work + cider and pulp everywhere = sweat + wasps

Everyone wants to use the cider press! I have appointments lined up all week. Today a family with four kids is coming over, and the dad says he has two 55 gallon drums full of apples. A guy came over last week with a whole bunch of windfalls which he pressed to make ethanol for his Prius. (Don't worry, I carefully disinfected the press afterwards.) And I have about 150 pounds of apples in the shed, still.

My problem is that I don't have any containers for juice. Last year we saved all our gallon milk jugs and used them for juice storage, but this year I haven't bought any milk at all since April. I have my 6 gallon carboy, of course, but my first batch of hard cider is just about ready to decant into the carboy for the secondary fermentation, so I can't use it. I guess I could use the 6 gallon plastic bucket that is currently holding the hard cider, if I decanted it right now, but I would have no way to refrigerate it, and without refrigeration, it turns into vinegar in about two days. 

I guess I'll just have to use the big jars that I use for milking, and figure out how to get more jars quick!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Holy Tomatoes!

With the beautiful sunny weather of the last week and a half, all the tomatoes that I thought were going to rot on the vine have been ripening. This is only one day's harvest; there are many more out there now waiting to be gathered. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them. I'm tired of canning (and out of canning jars) so maybe I'll make various types of tomato sauce and freeze them in gallon ziploc freezer bags. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I'm typing this with one hand, because the other is totally broken. Well, probably not really, but it feels like it. Coming out of the small barn this evening with a container full of food for the pig, a goat (didn't see which one) jumped up on the door and slammed it on my thumb. Tore all the skin off the top and it instantly swelled to twice normal size. I howled like a banshee.

It's now two hours later and I've taken four ibuprofen and kept it soaking in ice water, but I still can't bend it and it still hurts almost as much as it did at first. If Homero were here I might go get an x-ray, but he's spending the night in Seattle at work. Can't leave the kids. I think a strong snort of bourbon might be the only treatment available tonight. 

It's been quite a while since I hurt myself, so I can't complain. The last time was way back last winter when I fell off the ladder. Oh well, and I put a staple in the palm of my hand last week when I was trying to staple up bird netting to keep the chickens out of the loft, but that hardly counts, that's just plain ordinary stupidity.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Off-the-Grid Energy

I don't want to give the impression that I'm the only one playing the self-sufficency game around here: Homero has his own project that has nothing to do with farming but which will eventually contribute tremendously to our independence. It's biodiesel. So far, his project consists mostly of collecting vast amounts of waste vegetable oil from various mom-and-pop restaurants and storing them in my art studio. (See Leda behind the boxes? The swan has flown south and left her with a bunch of eggs.) Each of the boxes in the picture below holds 10 gallons, and I think there are eight boxes. 

Oh, and trips to Home Depot. Many many trips to Home Depot.  This get-up below is the actual biodiesel maker... it's an old water heater with a lot of tubes coming out, as you can see. The veggie oil needs to be heated to 130 degrees. Somewhere, there must be inputs for the chemical additives, which are methanol and potassium hydroxide. These inputs are the hold-up. Methanol can be bought in 55 gallon drums from a race car supply shop in Burlington (what do race car drivers use it for? I don't know. ), but it's very expensive. And potassium hydroxide is hard to find. Homero has been trying to find it locally for about a month, and can't. He could use sodium hydroxide (lye), but I guess it isn't quite as good. Nor is it easy to find, the days when drug stores sold Red Devil lye in the laundry section being long gone. I remember when I made soap from scratch years ago, I had to beg a little lye from my college chemistry teacher. Also, we've been told that buying potassium hydroxide in bulk puts you on a terrorist watch list; who knows if that's true?

There is a local farmer here who makes biodiesel in very large, 400 gallon batches, and we have been trying to get in touch with him to ask where he gets his inputs or if we maybe could buy from him since we only need small amounts. Homero's set up will supposedly make 40 gallon batches. There must be more to it than you can see in the picture, because there are also filters - several filters, ranging from 10 microns down to 2 microns, which is smaller than most people filter but Homero wants to be safe. Also, where does it come out? Pure glycerin is a by-product, and it has to precipitate out somewhere... well, as you can tell by now, I don't know squat about biodiesel, except that my car will run on it. Supposedly, if our waste oil is free, the biodiesel will cost about $1.50 a gallon to produce, not counting the start up costs. Homero tells me that he has spent only about $300 so far, but I have my doubts. I know how many trips to Home Depot he's made.

But there is one area that the biodiesel could pay for itself very quickly, and that's home heating. Currently we use propane, which is close to $3 a gallon today and which will certainly go up as winter approaches. Switching to biodiesel would necessitate buying a diesel furnace, but I've seen used ones on Craigslist pretty cheap. We'd really be taking a major step toward independence if we could supply our own heat. What would be left, really, except electricity?

We've got great wind here. New goal: windmill in three years!

Friday, September 5, 2008

More Chicks Than You Can Shake a Stick At

Last week, I climbed into the hayloft with a roll of bird netting and a staple gun, with the intention of saving our hay from marauding chickens, who like to fly up there - the ones that can fly - and lay their eggs. Seemed like a simple enough project, but I guess I put a staple in my hand for nothing, because today I found black mama up there sitting on a clutch of eggs. Since I have no way of knowing how long she has been sitting on them, and since I have no wish to break open eggs with bloody half-formed chicks in them, I'm just gonna have to let her hatch them out. This will be the fourth clutch this year, but each of the previous clutches averaged only two chicks each, so I guess we have room for a couple more. 

Hope they don't fall off the edge of the loft and die before I can get them down safely. Stupid chickens, I swear.

Pistols and Predators

Homero told me a story which I just have to put on the blog.

The other evening, Homero was out with the animals giving them their evening feeding. It was the end of a beautiful day, and the sun was just going down. Suddenly, he saw a man climb over the fence from the west, where there is nothing but hundreds of acres of pasture and woods. He was staring into the sun, so he couldn't make out the man's features, but he did notice that the man was carrying a gun in his hand. A pistol. And as he got closer, he saw that the pistol had a silencer attached to it.

At this point, Homero decided to run into the small barn and lock the door. He keeps his machete in there, and he quickly got it down and hunkered against the back wall. He was trying to decide if it would be a good idea to clamber up into the loft in case the man started to shoot through the door when he heard the man calling out "hellooo!" He thought the voice sounded familiar, so he opened the door and there was our neighbor standing there. He had holstered his gun.

Our neighbor wanted to let us know that there was a coyote in the blackberry bushes right along our fence line. He had seen it run in there just as Homero was coming out to the barn, and hadn't we better lock up the chickens and goats tonight? He himself was going to try to kill it - he has chickens, too - but he wanted us to know, just in case.

Homero thanked him for his concern. He's a good neighbor, really, and I guess it just never occurred to him what he might look like coming over the fence with a gun in his hand.