"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Under the Weather

This has been the worst summer I can remember. We had a long, cold, wet spring (snow on April 30!) and are now having a long, cold, wet fall - and it is still August. I think there were about three nice weeks in late July, early August, and since then it's been one torrential downpour after another.

The barnyard is poo stew. The little pig is up to his ears in mud. If he didn't have his little raised doghouse, he might actually drown. The alpacas, who still won't come into the barn, look like wet cats. And the goats have lungworm. Lungworm is a parasite that infects the lungs and causes intense coughing. The animal vector is.... a slug. Since we practically live in a sea of slugs right now I don't see how it could be prevented. Luckily it is pretty easily treatable.

I had the vet out for the coughing, to remove Xanadu's scur which was growing right back into her head, and to look at Iris' foot. I accidentally cut her hoof too deeply while I was trimming it and she bled like a stuck pig. Oddly, it didn't seem to hurt her, she just stood there eating alfalfa pellets while the pool of blood around her got rapidly deeper. I stood her on a clean towel for a while to slow the bleeding, then cleaned the hole with betadine, slapped a cotton pad on it and wrapped the whole hoof in duct tape to keep it dry. Changing that bandage is a pain in the butt and I have to go do it right now.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cider Season

My lovely old apple press, before I dragged it out of the shed and killed my back.

                                        First batch of juice

                                        Apples waiting to be pressed

Finally, the apples are ripening. After much scouting about, I now have a virtually unlimited supply of basically free apples; all I have to do is pick them. Since my sources have many different varieties, I should have apples all season long.

This year, I decided to start a new project. As much as I love sweet cider, and I do, there is a limit to how much one family can drink. Last year we drank cider with every meal, we froze some, we gave some away, we did our level best, but we still had cider fermenting in the fridge after a while. So I decided, why not ferment it on purpose?

Brewing is one of those intimidating culinary tasks. All you have to do is open a book and you see terminology like "titration" and "specific gravity." The list of necessary equipment includes things I last saw in high school chem lab. But hey, I've tackled other intimidating culinary tasks in this past year, like cheesemaking, canning, and pickling. Those things all had a learning curve, but I did okay. I'm up for it. Brewing may be a step up from canning, but it's not charcuterie (that's for next year.).

And besides, how can I play the self-sufficiency game in my head if I can't imagine getting pleasantly tossed?

So I went to the local brew supply store and bought the absolute minimum: a plastic fermenting bucket for the primary fermentation, a glass carboy for the secondary fermentation, two airlocks, a siphon, and some tubing. Oh yes, and yeast. I'm not even going to bottle, at least until I know if I can make anything worthy of bottling. It will be the middle of October before I can taste my first cider.

I pressed for the first time today, and drank sweet cider with supper. I also threw my back out moving that damn heavy machine. Gotta take the bitter with the sweet.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


This is a small fraction of the week's bounty. The blueberries and cherry tomatoes were picked today; blueberries from a farm up the road, tomatoes from my tiny excuse for a garden. The squash and the beets came from my eggs-for-veggies trade network, and the grape leaves were harvested from a neighbor's property. In addition, this week I've gathered, directly or via trade, two bunches of black kale, two bunches of swiss chard, a bunch of collards, a couple pounds of green beans, three red onions, a mess of snap peas, and a pie's worth of blackberries.

Then of course, there's the four dozen eggs (three traded, one kept) and the two pounds of goat cheese I made this week. Another batch of cheese is in the oven, jelling. 

Rowan has a friend staying with us for the week, and I've put her to work milking the goats and feeding chickens, picking berries and helping me make cheese. Her mom asked me to show her "the icky side" of animal husbandry, but I haven't made her muck out the barn. I want her to enjoy her stay, and get some work out of her at the same time.

gotta go, children calling

To-Do List Update

                                 The Alpaca Catch Pen

We had a few really hot days last week; I mean record hot, over 90 degrees. I thought that maybe the hay that got rained on would dry out enough to be useful, at least as bedding, but no. The top half of each cigar-shaped roll was light and dry, the bottom half heavy, soggy, and stinky. So I worked for three hours in the heat with a pitchfork and filled up the pickup bed four times, ferrying it over to the compost pile. The compost pile is considerably larger now. Looks like I got the job done just a little bit late; under each roll, there were some ominous blackened spots and pale, sickly looking weeds were poking up. Well, to give myself credit, my husband did say he would do it while I was out of town, and then he didn't. I did it when I got back. 

And gave myself a little bitty dose of heatstroke doing it, too. I think I drank too much plain water while I was working. A few hours later, as the sun was going down, I started to feel very shaky and sick. I thought I was going to throw up, and my knees really wouldn't hold me up. I had to go to bed. Some of the farm work is really a bit too hard for me in my current physical condition. But that condition is changing, slowly. I was looking down at my arms the other day and noticing that I now have muscle-y  forearms from milking goats twice a day. Just what I've always wanted. 

Homero did do another farm chore from the list. He built the alpaca catch pen. It looks nice, too. A five bar fence across the back, between the two barns, and a five bar gate across the whole front, so it's relatively easy to herd the alpacas into it. Now we can put fly powder on them (the poor things are so covered in flies they look like children dying of famine on TV), and, eventually, shear them. 

We haven't solved the eggs-under-the-barn problem yet, but I did discover a clutch of twelve eggs in the hayloft that were not too far along to be usable, at least in an application that disguised them thoroughly. I chose lemon curd. That's sieved.

Lemon Curd:
4 large eggs
1 and 1/3 c. sugar
1 c. lemon and/or lime juice
1 3/4 c. butter (3 and a half sticks. I know.)

Whisk together first three ingredients in a large saucepan and heat over medium low. Add butter all at once and whisk. It will look horrible and you'll think you did something wrong, but you didn't. Keep whisking, for about 45 minutes, until curd is thick enough to heavily coat a spoon and it begins to bubble around the edges. Then pour into a bowl, cover with clingwrap pressed right against the curd, and chill. This is insanely good on fresh blueberries.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Farm To-Do List

There are so many jobs that need doing around here, my hands would cramp up before I could even  type them all. But I'm going to exclude jobs relating to the creaky old farmhouse (plumbing issues, rot issues, roof issues) and restrict the list to strictly farm-related tasks. It'll still be long. 

1) Build an alpaca catch-pen. Not an overwhelming job because I can build it between the two barns; just put up a fence across the back and hang a gate across the front. A one day job for Homero. Maybe $175.

2) Staple chicken wire around bottom of each barn. The chickens have been laying their eggs underneath the barns. I'm feeding 30 chickens and getting 5 eggs a day. Ridiculous. Moneywise this job is free; we already have chicken wire and staples for the staplegun. But timewise a major pain in the ass. Cutting all that chicken wire will take forever. And kneeling in the barnyard crap to staple it all up... yech. Say 4 hours.

3) Fence a new pasture for kids/bucks. Currently I put baby goats in the mama barn at night and leave them on their mothers all day. That means only one milking a day. I could double milk production - almost - by putting babies in their own pasture as soon as they are big enough. This is a big job. The new pasture will be about 150' by 50'. One of the long sides will be the current fence, but that leaves 250 feet of fencing, about 25 six foot stakes, 4 wooden posts, a couple bags of cement, and a gate to hang. My sister just bought fencing materials and said they've gone up again. No surprise. Let's say $300 and a full day for two men. Gotta pay one of them, so make that $400. 

4) Create a more workable storage system for feed and materials. Currently I have feed in snap-top bins on a shelf in the mama barn, and materials like syringes, wormers, and hoof trimmers are just chucked up onto the high shelf. When I want something down I have to drag a ladder in there and search. When I put the baby goats into the barn at night I have to secure the feed bins by stacking them up and putting something heavy on top. And we need hay storage. Right now I only have storage for about a dozen bales, maybe 16. 

5) Speaking of hay... I put all the good hay in the loft of the big barn (big means 12 x 16, people, it's just a tuff-shed from Home Depot.). I have to get all the rained-on hay off the small field and into the mama barn. It'll serve as bedding. But I have to do that soon, or it will kill the grass that it's sitting on.

That's all I can think of for now. Maybe I should get out there and start doing some of it. 

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bad Dog

See this dog? Isn't he cute? Oh, such a sweet, friendly dog, so innocent butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. In his big, hairy, evil, chicken-crunching mouth. He ate a tiny baby chick today. A tiny defenseless chick only a few weeks old. Damn dog! This dog is a problem. He's killed several chickens now; he still chews up everything in sight; he barks incessantly; he jumps on little kids and knocks them over; he eats off the table; he apparently cannot be trained. He's cute allright, I'll give him that, but if he eats one more chicken he's history.

Rain, Rain

Half the hay was still in the small field, raked up but not stored yet, when it started to pour. And I mean, pour down buckets. Two days of rain. Aargh! It's eighty and sunny again today, but the hay is spoiled for anything but bedding.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Haying and Playing

                                                          The Princess and the Pig

                                     The Good Dog (Doesn't Eat Chickens)

The small field is about a quarter acre, I'd guess. And the grass had not been cut once this year until the neighbor did it for us the other day with his big tractor mower. The hay looked beautiful after drying for a couple of days in this lovely eighty-plus degree heat, but how to store it? The equipment needed to actually bale the hay is very expensive (and I'm not even sure what it's called. A Baler, I'd guess, but before you bale it, there's some other machine that goes over the cut grass and leaves it in long lines. It spins. A thresher? No. I dunno.)

Finally I decided to just rake it with a leaf rake. The field is small, after all.

It took me four hours and my arms feel like hamburger. There's a trick to it, though, that makes it easier. Don't try to rake long rows:  You can just keep raking in a long "vertical" row and the grass will sort of snowball all by itself, rolling itself into a nice tight cigar that is easy to later pick up with a pitchfork.

And throw in the back of the pickup truck and take to the barn, but there it stops. It isn't easy to get the hay up into the loft of the barn, no way, no how.

We raked all the hay, but only got a little less than half of it stored. We were just plumb tuckered by then. Homero fixed the pig pen today too, and raised the rails so the goats can't jump in. They tried, but they can't. They just crash and look hilarious.

Ha Ha!

A Typical Day

Here's the pig. And yes, it is in fact in the bathtub. Here's how my day went yesterday:

7:30.  Kids wake up. Feed kids. Go get my coffee. Feed goats, chickens, and alpacas. Milk goats. Finish cheese from yesterday, salt and form.

8:15   Wake Homero. Feed Homero. Kiss Homero goodbye.

9:30  Go meet beet lady at Fred Meyer. Buy 10 pounds of trimmed beets. Drive around looking for Peach guy's farm to pick up the crate of peaches I ordered yesterday. Find it. Spend a half hour talking to really cool farmer who makes his own biodiesel and was a mechanic for 27 years. Make plans to go back tomorrow with Homero. He'll want to meet this guy. Mileage: about 30.

12:00 Feed kids. Start to rake mown grass into haystacks until cheap rake breaks. Make a mental note to buy a new rake. Cruise Craigslist, find an urgent message from a guy who says "Help! My goat can't walk. I think she needs toenails trimmed. Can you help?" Call and make plans to go out to guy's house at 6:30.

1:00 Talk to my sister. Accept offer of five free chickens; make plans to go to her house after helping  goat guy. Talk to L. and make plans to meet her and pick up piglet. Go to farm store and buy pig starter and hardware for gate. Mileage: about 45

3:00 Drive out to some farm out in the county to meet L. for piglet. Get piglet, spend a nice 20 minutes chatting with them about stuff. They say our tough chickens were just old, that's all. Take piglet home. Put hook and eye on pig pen gate, with much cursing and swearing because I don't have a drill and I have to screw in the screws with my fingers and a rock.  Observe that Iris can open it. Repeat process with the other hook and eye in the package (good thing they come in twos) with more swearing. Milk goat. Put piglet in and feed him goat's milk and pig starter. Observe that the goats jump the fence and eat all his food. Hit goats with a stick and shout. Repeat. Repeat. Give up and go inside.

5:00 Dare anyone to bother me for the next half hour.

5:30 Clean out van enough to put dog crate in it. Find cardboard and duct tape to use as a door for the dog crate, which will be chicken transportation. Find goat hoof trimmers. Head for goat guy's place.

6:00 Discover that I don't have goat guy's address or phone number. Must have thrown it away when I cleaned out the van. Try to remember verbal directions. Drive around.

6:30 Find goat guy's place. Be totally appalled at condition of goats. Do my best with the hooves of the one female who can't walk (there are also three bucks who are still walking, but also have not had hooves trimmed in two years) and feel like crying but keep my game face on. Recommend veterinarian. When that is not well received, recommend that since these are meat goats anyway, it's probably time to let them be meat. Smile. 

7:30 Go to sister's house. Flop on couch, realize I reek of stinky billy goat balls and hoof rot. Mooch clean clothes. Mooch food for my kids. Mooch beer. Call Homero; hear that he is still at garage.

8:30 Get chickens in car. Accidentally let one escape.

8:40 Catch chicken. Start drive home. Check phone; see that Rowan has called. Call Rowan; learn that piglet escaped and was returned by "an older guy with grey hair and a grey mustache" and is now in the bathtub.

8:45 - 8:55 Implore the Lord that the nice guy with the grey hair and grey mustache was not our neighbor who brought back all the chickens, but realize that it probably was. Try to call Homero. Phone dead.

9:30 Arrive home. Mileage: about 50. Look at pig in bathtub. Take pictures. Start getting kids ready for bed. 

9:45 Homero arrives home. Looks at pig in bathtub. Tell Homero the story. Notice that the rug near bathtub is wet and smells like pee. Search for problem. Find that toilet has overflown.

9:50 Cry. Stop crying. Homero and I take chickens out and lock them in the mama barn. Get kids in bed.

10:15 Cook dinner for Homero and Rowan. Send Rowan to bed. Talk for a while with Homero about Long hours. Bite my tongue. 

11:00 Go to bed. Make a mental list of things to do tomorrow.

11:00 - 12:30 Try to stop thinking about things to do tomorrow. Homero comes to bed. Go to sleep.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Unexpectedly, we got a new pig today. Well, the pig wasn't entirely unexpected, just his arrival today. Our first pig, you may remember, was a trade from Craigslist; I answered a post from a couple looking for a cattle chute, since I just happened to have one rusting gently away in the back field. They traded me a piglet. 

That pig turned out to be so delicious, even if he was a bit of a butt, that we decided we'd get another piglet from the same folks again. Great people, real serious homesteaders. They built their home from the ground up, lived without electricity for two years, raising two babies at the same time. They have a little bit of everything: cows, pigs, turkeys, you name it. He's a fireman and she's a farmer. And a knockout. They're the kind of couple that makes me feel genetically inferior, they're that handsome, hardworking, and nice. 

Anyway, L. called me this morning and let me know they were coming up today and would we like them to bring the pig a bit early? He can eat and drink from a pan, he's basically weaned, but it would be nice if I were to give him some goat's milk for a week two still. Okay, sure!
I had to run to the farm store for pig starter and a hook and eye for the door to the pig pen (because the goats push it open. They like to lie down in the shade on that side of the barn.), but that's easy. 

Right, like anything is easy on the farm. It slipped my mind that Iris, the Nubian, can open simple latches like hooks and eyes. The pig is so tiny, if he gets out of his pen he can slip right under the gate and then we'd have another escaped animal situation and I doubt the neighbors would be quite so understanding this time around. I can just imagine that piglet rooting up Mrs. J's  vegetable garden. It would make the damage the chickens did look like....chickenfeed. 
Good thing there were two hooks and eyes in the package; I put them in going opposite ways and I think that will frustrate the goat.

But only that one goat. The others just jump the fence. The poor pig wasn't able to eat any of his food. The goats are single-minded about eating the pig food. It must be delicious. I was whaling on them with a switch and they didn't even care. I think I'm going to have to lock them in the barn while I feed the pig, just until he is able to defend his own food, which shouldn't be too long. They grow pretty fast.

Oh yes, and my sister is gifting me some more chickens this evening. Just three. Not so many, really. They don't even replace the ones we ate a few days ago. Tried to eat. Okay, the dogs ate them. 

Monday, August 4, 2008

Chicken Pox

A pox on those filthy chickens! They were bad to the very end.  I boiled the hell out of them for hours (along with onions, carrots, and various spices, of course) and yet they remained inedibly tough and stringy. Worse than the wild rabbit Ivory caught that one time. I don't know what we did wrong. There must be some way to treat them that would have given better results, or I swear, chickens would never have come to be considered edible. 

Thank God the people we invited decided they couldn't come. 

Oh well. At least I am morally certain they aren't going to escape again.

Runaway Chickens: The Final Chapter

After our neighbor brought back the two chickens a few days ago, I thought we had them all. There was the one we caught ourselves; the one they brought back and which escaped again; then the two they brought back together. That makes three. I had seen a big pile of brown feathers, and I hadn't seen any more chickens, so I thought they were all accounted for. 

Not quite. Yesterday evening, the neighbor brought back the last hen. What an incredibly nice man. I was mortified by the whole incident, and asked what I could give him for the trouble he'd taken. Did he like goat cheese?

No, he hated goat cheese. Grew up with goats. His wife liked it, but no need, no need. No big deal. Just chickens. Then he asked if we'd like him to come over with his big tractor and mow the small field so we could put up the hay. Well, hell, sure we would. Then he chatted for a while with Homero about welding, then he climbed in his truck and drove off.

After a couple of minutes thought, I decided I just couldn't leave it alone. I grabbed some of the chevre I made on Friday, and which turned out terrific, and a big ham steak from the freezer and ran over there. "If you won't take anything for catching the chickens, please take this for mowing the small field. I felt awful about the whole chicken thing and I didn't know what to do when I couldn't catch them. They won't come back, I promise, we're going to kill them tomorrow." He said "Well, thank you. It's okay."

This morning he was here at 8 am mowing the small field. 

He kept his word; we kept ours. 

I was canning beets this morning (lovely lovely beets given to me by my friend Marissa) so I had an excuse, albeit weak; Homero did the actual killing. He showed me how to pluck them. You just dip them in boiling hot water and then the feathers come right off, mostly. You only have to tug a little, on the wings where the feathers are strong. He gave me the plucked chickens to gut; but I confess, I couldn't do it. Part of the problem was the lack of a good cleaver, but I can't blame it entirely on that. I just didn't want to stick my hand in there with all the guts. Then I sliced open the craw by mistake and all the grain came out, and I went and told Homero I'd finish plucking, he had to gut.

There were two whole, fully formed and hard-shelled eggs inside the hens. 

We decided to cook all the birds at once because plunging them in hot water had half-cooked the outer layer of flesh. As I speak, there is a giant kettle of chicken stock on the stove, just coming to a simmer. We invited Homero's partner Juan and his family up and we're going to have a big mole feast. I'm very proud that almost everything in the feast (except the rice) will be either produced on the farm or traded for locally.