"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Near Miss

Does anyone else out there have a husband like this? My husband apparently thinks it's funny to clip two of the goats collars together while he's out doing the chores. Now, I've never seen him do this, or I would have given him what for a long time ago. He did this yesterday morning when he fed the animals before he left for work. Friday nights he spends in the city, doesn't get back until Saturday night. And he forgot to unhook them.

Well of course I fed the animals last night, but I did it a little late, it was already getting dark, and I didn't notice that Django and her baby Valentine were standing unusually close together. They were able to get around well enough that I didn't notice anything strange, hurried as I was. 

This morning was a different story. They were lying down and they didn't get up to eat. That means something is wrong, so I went over to see what. Valentine looked pretty normal, but Django looked terrible. She was looking up with her neck bent at a funny angle and bubbling at the mouth. Just because of how they were positioned (and perhaps slowness on my part), it took me a couple of minutes to see the problem. Django's collar was strangling her, the two collars were wrapped around each other and clipped together. It couldn't have happened by accident. 

I was confused and kind of frightened. Was this some sort of prank by local assholes, the kind who go out cow-tipping? Had somebody been on my property? Could the kids have done this? Rowan, when I asked her, said "this sounds like something papa would do," and so it did.

He freely admitted it when I called him to ask if he had done something so incredibly idiotic. He fell all over himself apologizing, but I am still mad enough to spit tacks. It's a good thing they are both going to be all right, because I don't know how long it would have taken me to forgive him if he had killed my favorite goat with such a stupid pendejada. 

Friday, January 30, 2009

Chicken Follow-up

I got a call from the dept. of Ag's veterinarian who did the necropsy on my chicken yesterday. He just left a message, which made me feel awful. He said that this poor chicken had numerous serious injuries, dating back at least six months! It had a broken keel bone, was extremely emaciated and dehydrated, and it's intestines were basically destroyed by diarrhea! There's almost nothing more that could be wrong with this chicken! 

The only thing that mitigates my guilt is that this chicken was given to me less than six months ago, so it didn't suffer it's broken bones at my house. 

He didn't tell me what organism caused the diarrhea, but I'm treating them all with sulfa in their water. The most likely organisms are salmonella and coccidia. The eggs are all fine, as long as we cook them well. No other birds appear ill, so I'm kind of at a loss.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Poultry Plague

Over the last three weeks, two chicken s have died, and now a third is very ill. The first one was one that my sister gave me, and it was a pretty sickly chicken when I got it. Those chickens never blended well with the rest of the flock, and slept outside in the pig pen, so I wasn't surprised when it died. I assumed it died of exposure.

The second chicken died about a week later. It was that weird old red hen that never was quite right; she was always off by herself and appeared to be blind in one eye. I had no idea how old she was, so when she died, I chalked it up to old age. 

But this morning, a previously healthy young chicken was sick. Same as the red hen, she just couldn't get up, but she did eat when I put food right in front of her. Now I was getting worried, because there has been a big thing in the news this week that they found avian influenza on a turkey farm just over the border in B.C. The department of Agriculture is setting up a "command post" here in Whatcom County for farmers to bring eggs to be tested.

Considering the fact that I am a nurse, and wanted to be a public health nurse at that, I decided I couldn't ignore this situation. I called my regular vet, and they gave me other numbers to call, even as far as the state capitol in Olympia. The upshot, after speaking to at least four different agencies and entities, is that the local chapter of the state department of agriculture is sending a vet out to my farm to collect the eggs and the chicken, who will hopefully be dead by then. He's on his way, and I'm probably going to be late to pick up my daughter from school.

The eggs can be tested for AI, and the chicken will be subjected to a necropsy. The chances that this is bird flu are miniscule. It's much more likely to be salmonella or coccidia (both bacterial diseases that can be treated easily). Even if it were to be bird flu, it would not likely be a dangerous type. They've already typed the Canadian strain and it's not transmissible to humans.
But all my chickens would have to be killed. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Local Eating, Year Two

Those of you who have followed along on this crazy venture since the start will remember that I set a goal for myself and my family of sourcing 50% of our eat-at-home food from within the county. Well, it's been a full year, and so I'd like to report on our (moderate) success and set some new goals for the coming year.

First, I'll just be blunt and say we didn't do it. Probably not even very close. There are many foods that my family simply won't give up, and cereal, rice, pasta, and bananas are among them. Coffee, chocolate, and  orange juice. Really, I didn't try very hard to source foods that we eat all the time but which I'm pretty sure aren't grown in the county, like wheat, dry beans, and so forth. I just assumed they weren't available, period. However, I've just finished reading "Plenty," a book about a couple of fairly extreme fanatics who ate 99% locally (defined as produced within 100 miles) for a year, based in Vancouver B.C., which is only a few miles from me. They found wheat, eventually, and all sorts of products one would not expect. They put a lot of effort into it. I'm frankly not prepared to put that much time into sourcing ingredients, but I guess I can up it to a couple of hours. I guess I can ask at the Co-op. "Hey, is anybody growing lentils around here?" That's not too hard, is it? 

On to the success stories: for seven months of the year, I didn't buy a single gallon of milk, nor an egg, nor any pork product. When I did buy milk, I could buy it from a local farm. I bought only about a third of my usual amount of cheese, because I was making lots of it. Ditto yogurt. I haven't bought beef for a few months now, since whenever it was that we got our quarter-steer. And for pretty much the entire growing season, say, May to the end of October, the majority of our produce needs were met by the trade network. Yes, yes, we ate more kale than we cared to, more beets and more pumpkins, but we ate well. I won't say I didn't buy produce, I had to keep buying onions and garlic, and we never did give up lemons. But I bought a lot of it from the local farmer's market, and some of it we grew ourselves (okay, just radishes, salad greens, herbs, and tomatoes. I never said I was a great gardener.)

I still have several quart sized ziploc bags of frozen local strawberries we picked ourselves back in June, and we ate the last blueberries yesterday (sigh). There are twelve frozen ears of local corn. About a dozen nectarines - well, wait, they weren't truly local, they came from Yakima. And let's not forget, the cabinet which is still stuffed with home canned goods - pickles, jams and cajeta. I'd better start trying to incorporate some of that into our diet or it will still be around come next harvest-time. 

So what can we do better next year? I'd like to expand the trade network. Unfortunately, my garden-lady friend found a new source for eggs while my hens were not laying, so I'll have to trade her something else. Goat's milk yogurt? Chevre? She said she'd be interested in a kid (one of the goat's, not one of mine) but I still don't know if any are on the way. That's going to be the hardest part of next year's local eating - accepting that we have to eat the baby goats. I hope I can do it. I can find a new gardener to trade with, and I'd better! because at the end of January I'm already getting 5 eggs a day, and I have the potential for a dozen a day in a couple of months here. 

The pig will be meat soon, and he and the rest of the steer ought to last us for several months. Meat and dairy products are  a cinch; it's finding more local products, expanding into the realm of dry goods, and finding more appetizing ways to preserve the harvest that will be the challenge. I think I'll set the same goal again: 50%. But this time, I'll take it more seriously.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pig Poll Results

It's a tie. 

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mid-Winter Doldrums

Although it has been lovely and clear, with a sun bright enough to actually feel on your shoulders at high noon, the temperature has dropped sharply, and it is now impossible to do chores without gloves and a hat. My fingers just won't work the gate latches, they are dumb with cold. I think the outside water line cracked; it is leaking fairly freely where it emerges from the ground. I'm debating whether I should tell Homero about it or just call somebody. 

Ivory got sprayed by a skunk and has to sleep out in the playroom. It's extremely cold out there and she's a very skinny dog, so I put one of Hope's turtlenecks on her. 

I still don't know whether or not any does are pregnant. All of them showed some signs of heat this month, but the ones that were bred showed much weaker signs, just a little puffiness and a tiny bit of goo, as compared to the ones who were not bred and showed very strong signs of heat: drooling, flagging, and crying. 

Ladies, aren't you glad you're not a goat?

Monday, January 19, 2009

My Barn Fetish

One of my neighbor's two barns across the street. These barns are enormous and beautifully kept. The last photo is his other barn. Working barns. 
                                               Old barn on Aldergrove

                                            Working barn on Olsen

I have a confession to make. I love big old barns. I mean, I don't just like barns, I desire and covet them. My children roll their eyes and say "m-o-o-o-o-m," but when I see a particularly lovely barn I stop the car and drool for a while. My idea of a great way to spend a sunday afternoon is driving around the county looking for cool barns I've never seen before. Right now, a property that I drive by almost every day is for sale, and I am dearly hoping they have an open house, and that if they do, they will let me tour their barn, which is truly a beauty, one of the best preserved and largest classic old barns in the area. 

There was a smallish barn on the little farm I grew up on. In retrospect, it was a terrifying death trap, a tragedy waiting to happen, but at the time it was the coolest place to play EVER. There was a big hayloft with a trapdoor and we could jump through it and land in the hay underneath. Once I caught my armpit on a nail sticking out from the side of that trapdoor and got a hell of a scratch all down my side. Another time I stepped on a nail sticking up from a board and ran all the way back to the house with a piece of two by four clump-clump-clumping along with me. There was one baby goat (forget her name) who could climb the ladder and get up in the hayloft with us and we just thought that was the funniest thing in the world. 

Now I have two stupid little pre-fab barns from Home Depot, which were expensive and make me feel like a poseur. But what are you gonna do? As much as I adore and admire beautiful big old barns, I'm actually kind of glad I don't have one. I understand they are murder to maintain. 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hello Sun!

After a terrible month which brought us record low temperatures, blizzards, floods, and freezing rains; after a solid month in which we saw the sun only in brief flashes through the clouds, or as a pale silver disc that more closely resembled the moon, or in our dreams; after a bizarre week of impenetrable fog, night and day, finally, finally!

This morning dawned brilliant and clear, the mountains are out all around us, to the north, the east and the south, looking magnified and sharp as a knife, and the sky is bright, unbroken blue from edge to edge. I want to sing all day long! I don't even care that it's so cold that we're back to hauling water.

Friday, January 16, 2009

First Eggs

Yesterday I found two eggs. They were up in the hayloft and they both fell down when I climbed up there to get hay. Neither one of them broke, oddly enough. One of them is definitely yellow-mama's egg, I recognize those small, pointy white eggs with wrinkles at the tip. The other one must be from one of the pullets, because it's tiny. And cute.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Are You Looking at Me?

Canned Madness

If a person were to page back in this blog all the way to July, he or she would find a picture that looks almost exactly like the one above. In that post I was bragging about how much canning I'd gotten done already, so early in the season. I planned to ship off delicious christmas presents to all my relatives and friends, joining that respected club of women who make their own preserves and generously hand them out. Thrifty, crafty women. The two most exciting packages that arrived at our house in the Christmas season when I was young were the ones from my grandmother, full of delicious pickles and relishes, and from my mother's friend April, full of jewel-toned homemade cordial, of which I was allowed only tiny sips. This year, I was going to be the sender of such tempting treats and the receiver of all the imagined admiration.

But I have this thing with the mail. My siblings will be nodding along at this point. It's a hereditary thing in our family to be utterly incapable of dealing with the postal system. Mom used to let the mail sit out until the mailman stopped delivering it. I should have known myself well enough to know that making the preserves was the easy part: wrapping and boxing and gathering addresses and shipping was the impossibly unlikely part.

So now I am putting up this picture of the current contents of my preserves shelf for two reasons: to prove to everybody what an industrious soul I truly was this past growing season, and to solicit help in figuring out how to get rid of all this crap before the next growing season.

Shout Out to Goatbeat!

Several weeks ago, a goat-buddy of mine, who happens to be the owner of the bucks we bred our does to this year, invited me to join an online forum called Goatbeat. This is a great resource for anyone with goats, from smallholders with a couple of nannies like me, on up to larger scale breeders and ranchers. Approximately 300 farmers, mostly women, provide support and advice and their collective wisdom to help each other raise healthy happy goats. Already, I've learned a great deal from them, and also seen many dozens of unbelievably cute pictures of baby goats. Can't wait to post my own!

The Goatbeat consensus regarding my goat's coughing was that it is most likely due to the fact that I just bought a new batch of hay. It seems odd, but unanimous opinion holds that a change of feed can make goats cough. Since my goats show no other symptoms (beyond Flopsy's spot of the trots, which has cleared up), I shouldn't worry overmuch.

So I'm not.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I think the goats are ill. Some of them. They still have that nagging cough, it never quite went entirely away, and now it's stronger again. And Flopsy has a touch of diarrhea and just doesn't seem like herself. She's not bright-eyed and bushy tailed, she's kind of slow and listless. Still eating fine, though and pushing her way up to the manger just like everybody else.

It's this damn wet. Why oh why didn't I listen to my dear old Dad and buy some ranchland in Arizona?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.

Homero wants to butcher the pig himself. 

The economic argument is rather compelling. At least half the cost of the final product is in the killing and what comes after. The "kill fee," or the cost of getting the butcher to come to the farm and kill it, is $70. Then they charge 55 cents cut and wrap fee per pound hanging weight, which is different than the weight of the meat you actually get back. The last pig, a little on the small side, was 138 pounds hanging weight and 90 pounds of meat. Assuming this pig is a little bigger - say, 180 hanging weight -it will cost us $169 to have him processed. As a little piglet, he cost $75, and we've probably spent $50-75 in feed for him. That adds up: at least $300, or something like $3/pound. 

I guess it's the same price as supermarket pork, more or less, for a much better product, and the peace of mind of knowing that our animal was humanely raised and healthy. But home butchering would bring that price down to a little over $1.25 a pound. That's some cheap, quality protein.

Now for the downside. Oh, where to begin? Okay, let's begin with MY knowledge deficit. I don't have the foggiest idea how to cure bacon and ham, and I'm not really psyched to learn. So we'd either have to have all uncured pork (no way) or pay somebody to cure it. Then there's my husband's knowledge deficit. Homero has, in fact, helped butcher a pig before. He was twelve years old and he assisted his father in Mexico. How material was his assistance, I don't know. I haven't asked. Homero has many wonderful qualities, and one of them is his - how do I put this? - unflagging self-assurance. He hasn't any doubt whatsoever that his prior experience and enthusiasm is equal to the task. It's left to me to play Cassandra.

So I bought a book, which is what I do when I have any sort of doubts about anything, or indeed, any money in my pocket at all. Storey's big book of butchery. I simply told Homero he was welcome to kill the pig as soon as he had carefully read the section on pigs and assembled all of the tools it says are necessary. Since the first such tool is a 22 rifle, the next is a sturdy, 4 1/2 x 6 foot wooden platform, and the third is a 95 gallon stock tank settled over a cement fire pit, I think the pig is safe for a while. 

Seriously. Home butchery is part of self-sufficiency, and it should be a goal of mine to become capable at it or more realistically to encourage my husband to become capable. It's a fact that the animals have to die in order for us to eat, I'm aware of that, and I've been pushing myself by little baby steps toward becoming more, um, tolerant of the process. No matter how quick, humane and painless the animal's death might be, butchery is messy, bloody, smelly, and wearisome. I should be grateful that Homero is willing to take it on.

But I still want good meat, ham, and bacon. I don't want to lost all this meat to his first try. Therefore I put an ad on Craigslist for a mobile butcher, professional or very experienced amateur, willing to help, teach, and get paid partly in meat or mechanic work. We'll see how that pans out.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hoof Hell

Well, we got through the hoof trimming this morning with only two small cuts, one to a goat and one to me. Homero cut the goat; I cut myself. No big deal on either count.

But man, my goat's feet are in poor shape. Each of them has at least one badly rotted spot, and some of them have spots on two or three feet. I just can't cut deeply enough to get it all out, I'll have to cut as deeply as I dare and wait for the foot to grow out more and then cut again. Some foot rot is inevitable, just like tooth decay. Especially in this climate. All my goats are healthy, they aren't showing any signs of distress or trouble getting around, so I'll just have to step up the schedule and trim every other week until summertime comes and dries the place up a little bit.

I hope!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Foul Weather, Foul Feet

Oh, the joys of living in the great northwest in the winter. This winter in particular. We just had three feet or so of snow melt, leaving great puddles and ponds all over the place, and now the rain is coming down. Hard. There is less dry land than water on my property: of my five acres, I'd say three of them are underwater. Only a couple of inches for the most part, but still.

This is not good for hooves. Very bad for hooves. I have a barn with elevated wooden floors and straw bedding, but since it has been so cold and so wet, all the animals stay in the barn pretty much 24/7, which is also not good for hooves. They all poop and pee in there and the straw gets wet and dirty within minutes. I muck out every day but that still means that the animals are standing in bad-for-them moisture and crud for about twenty-two hours a day. This leaves them vulnerable to foot rot.

A goat's hooves grow continually, and pretty fast, too. If you think about it, this makes sense because they are designed to be hopping about over rocks and cliffs, wearing their feet down constantly. When the hoof gets too long, it creates deep pockets for mud and crap to get wedged into, which then causes infections which can spread right up into the bone. To avoid this, a goat's hooves must be trimmed every four to six weeks. 

I imagine there are nice, calm, well-mannered goats out there who just stand still and let their hooves be trimmed, but mine are not among them. Mine kick and thrash about, even when confined in a stanchion and given treats to eat. Every time I trim hooves, I cut myself and/or the goat. I've learned to have iodine, clean rags and duct tape available at all times. It's a major pain in the tuchus, and as I have six goats, by the time I am done I am usually drenched with sweat, at the very least. And it's time to do it AGAIN.

At least I am actually capable of trimming goat hooves. The pony's feet are also suffering the effects of this long wet winter, and I can't do her feet at all. In fact, I don't know of anyone who will try: she kicked the last farrier I had out and she isn't coming back. But that's a problem for another day. Right now, I hear the pitter patter of little goat feet calling me.


Monday, January 5, 2009

The Big Thaw

The mud is back. Oh joy.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Early Morning Photos

On my way out the door this morning with two five gallon buckets of hot water, I saw the sunrise and had to go back inside for my camera. Mount Baker was really putting on a show. I stood there in the twenty degree cold, stamping my feet, blowing on my hands, taking pictures and being grateful, for about ten minutes while the sun rose. Then on the way back I took this picture of a chicken with it's head in a bucket. 

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Farm Finanaces

We are just about all out of hay. There might be a week's worth left in the hayloft, from the grass we cut and raked off the smallest field back in July or August. God, I remember doing that, it was so hot. I must have raked and pitched up fourteen pickup loads worth, and my arms and back hurt for a week. And about half of it spoiled in a sudden summer downpour.  We still had to pick it up, though, so it didn't kill the grass underneath. 

I thought the hay would last longer. We've gone through 36 bought bales as well as the farm hay. We started feeding hay exclusively around the middle or end of November. That makes no sense. That's six bales a week, or just about a bale a day. How can that be? I haven't been feeding them that much! 

Oh wait I remember, some of the hay I bought was no good for food, it was slightly moldy and we used it for bedding. But even so. That was only three or four bales, which doesn't change the equation very much. Six goats, a pony, and three alpacas. The goat's eat the lion's share (the lion's share of hay, ha ha). The pony appears to eat very little but gets hugely fat anyway (probably pregnant). And for a long time I was overfeeding the alpacas. I was giving them a flake apiece every day, but as it turns out they only need a a third as much. Now that I know that I can conserve a little.

So for the winter so far - the winter which is only half over - I've spent about $200 on hay, and lord knows how much in chicken food, pig food, alpaca food, goat food, and alfalfa pellets. Five different kinds of food, about two 50# bags/month, at an averaged cost of $16/bag... That's $160/month. Sounds about right, but sheesh. I haven't seen an egg in over a month! Those are going to be some pretty pricey eggs by the time they start laying in spring. 

The pig is getting close to slaughter weight, a little bigger than the last one, so figure he'll get us about 120 pounds of meat, maybe 140. And I expect to have two or three meat kids this year, but they won't be ready to eat until next fall. And of course, milk season is coming up. All the milk and cheese we can eat. And the trade network will kick in by May, so free veggies and fruits all spring and summer. I don't know, maybe it all evens out. 

Is there an accountant in the house?