"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thistle Situation

The end of July, and already it's been a long hot summer. I think the heat may have peaked yesterday (at 101 degrees!!!) but it's not really going to cool down to what we might call normal temperatures anytime soon. And as far as I know, there's no rain in the forecast at all. In fact, I remember hearing that the long-term forecast was for "drier than normal" conditions right through september. 

I hope that doesn't mean no rain at all. There was a thunderstorm about a week ago, with enough rain to spoil all the hay in the fields, but aside from that, nothing since May, and not much then. The grass is dry and dead looking. The trees all look droopy and tired, even old well-established trees. Blackberries are doing fine, though. Clover is still mostly green. And, not surprisingly, thriving are the thistles. That's my back field at the top of the page: pretty much a sea of thistles. If anyone out there is doing a survey of the types of thistles that grow in Whatcom County, well, you're invited. They're all here, I'm sure. 

At least the honeybees like them. That's the one good thing about thistles I can think of. 

              How many goats can you find in this picture? Hint: four. 

Homero got the mower working. He managed to mow the front lawn and the back lawn where the playset is, and I think he even got around the fruit trees. First time we've managed to mow without it breaking down in the middle since early spring. Hooray! 

But I'm not going to try it against the thistles. I know which side would win that confrontation!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Trade Network Week Eight

Today the kale fairy gave me:

3 gallon sized ziploc bags of various types of greens (2 kinds of kale and some chard)
2 gallons salad greens (red and green leaf lettuce)
4 big turnips
4 small zucchini
about twenty red carrots
4 bulbs fennel
1.5 pounds slender greenbeans

I think that's it. We've long ago passed the tipping point: the value of the veggies she's given me far outweighs whatever value my pasture raised kid has. Even if I wait until christmas, I doubt Sandy will provide more than twenty-five or thirty pounds of meat. I warned the kale fairy at the beginning of the season that my calculations showed she was getting the thin end of the stick; but she said she didn't care. She loves to garden, and she hates waste. She wants her vegetables to be enjoyed, which they are. So, I guess everybody's happy, although I can't shake a faint sense of guilt that I'm scoring such a lopsided deal.

Flopsy Update #3

Hooray! Finally, this morning, I got all the milk out of Flopsy's right side (not left, as previously, erroneously written). Along with the milk came several incredibly icky clots of hardened milk. I would milk for a while, then a clot would plug up the orifice and I'd have to work at getting it out while the poor goat hollered and kicked. I am still being very gentle, but I'm sure it hurts. 

I did manage to milk her all out this morning. There are definitely more clots in the teat, but the mass has broken up, it's not solid anymore. Now it's as though her teat is full of gravel. I know I'm supposed to be doing this every couple of hours, but how? I'm working today. I could ask Homero but......

The good news is, the goat seems fine. No fever anymore, and she is eating with normal goatish relish. The heat is getting to everybody, though, and everyone is spending most of their time lying down in whatever patch of shade they can find. It's going to get up to nearly one hundred today! I wonder if that's EVER happened before in this area! Not lately. 

The little bucklings are sore throated from yelling for two days now. They just can't believe I'm not going to put them back in with their mothers. I feel for them, I really do. But I can't believe how much milk I'm getting from Iris now that I've pulled her baby off her! A gallon a day, easy. 
I don't really need another milk goat at all with her around. 

Better make cheese.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Flopsy Update #2

I can't milk her! This morning, milk came out. Tonight, nothing! Just a drop or two. The teat is plugged solid. The bag is tight. Aack! Poor goat!

Flopsy Update

The vet says Flopsy has an injury in the teat. Maybe somebody stepped on it, or maybe I injured it myself trying to squeeze out the infected coagulated milk. Either way, now it's full of scar tissue and inflammation as well as infection. 

He wanted me to stop milking entirely on that side, but that advice was totally counter to everything I've ever read or heard about mastitis. Everybody says to have to milk it out. Books say it, goat people say it, everybody! So I called another vet for a second opinion. He also said he couldn't understand why you wouldn't milk it out, even with an injury. Just be extra gentle. He did agree with vet #1, however, that I should get the kid off of her.

So I took a step. Both bucklings, Iris' and Flopsy's, have been permanently separated. They are being forcibly weaned. They are both plenty old enough, but they aren't going to like it. Lots of yelling today and the next couple of days. Also, of course, I am now committed to twice daily milking, like it or not. 

For the farm record:
penicillin 5 cc IM BID x 5 days
milk/massage Q 4hrs
withhold milk 14 days

Monday, July 27, 2009


Flopsy has mastitis in her left teat. I'm taking her to the vet today. So far she's had two doses of IM penicillin and two doses of aspirin for a high fever. Can't milk out the teat. I think they're going to have to irrigate it (yuck.). 

Mastitis can be fatal if you ignore it. I'll keep y'all posted.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Very Good Dog

                                                                      Rowan and Ivory

At about 8 o'clock this morning, the goats got away from me. I left the gate open for just ONE second while I slipped out to grab the hose, and they stampeded out. Usually, they stick together pretty tightly, but they must have made themselves a plan, because this time they scattered to the four winds.

I'm not fully awake when I head out to the animals in the morning. I ran after first one, then another, and couldn't catch any of them. I looked around for my goat-whapper (a three foot, slender stick of bamboo) but I didn't see it anywhere. I shouted and cursed and yelled for help. I managed to get one and drag her back to the gate, and shove her through with much grunting and puffing, but one at a time was the best I could do. 

We are in the middle of a heat spell here, and even at 8 a.m., it's already hot and muggy. I had already milked three goats in the mama barn, which is a good fifteen degrees hotter than the open air, and I was tired from holding the goat's back foot with one hand and milking with the other so they didn't knock the bucket over (I have to figure out some sort of hind-foot restraint system, or I swear I'm going to maim a goat pretty soon.). After chasing down and hauling five goats across the landscape, sweat was pouring off me in rivers, which is not how I like to spend the first half hour of any given day. The last goat, Django, was far, far away. I was about to shout "Calgon, take me away!" when I remembered Ivory.

Ivory is the beautiful dog in the above picture. She's our good dog, as opposed the Lancelot, our bad dog. Homero has been "teaching" Ivory to "herd goats" which as far as I could see meant encouraging her to chase them all over hell and gone. I didn't like it at all, thinking it would just lead to nervous goats and possibly on to chicken killing. "Stop that silliness," I have said several times.

Well I'm glad he ignored me. I called for Ivory and pointed to the goat. "Bushka, bushka," I told her, which is sort of Spanish for "go get it!" She surprised the hell out of me by charging straight for the goat and bringing it right to the gate. Well, okay, I did have to repeat "bushka" a few times when the goat went in the wrong direction, but she had the goat at the gate in under a minute. And, just as important, she stopped instantly when I said "Wait." She didn't let the goat get by her, and she didn't bite it (I almost did, though). 

What a dog! I'm going to take her with me every time I let the goats out for a browse. Maybe she can really be a major help to me. But still, I'm not going to let go of my goat-whapping stick.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saturday Farmer's Market Trade

I love the saturday farmer's market. 

This week I was two eggs short of four dozen (so many broody hens!), so I also threw in a half pound of goat cheddar, which came out absolutely fantastic this time. That gave me $15 worth of trade, for which I got:

5 pounds of roma tomatoes
2 pounds of lemon cucumbers
2 pounds of peaches

all organic, and all delicious. Unfortunately, there's not quite enough tomatoes to bother canning, but I may blanch, blend, and freeze in ziplocs. That's a very versatile and satisfying way to store tomatoes.

Be Prepared

Due to all the reading I've been doing on the internet since I started this blog, I've begun a slow, inexorable descent into paranoia and fear about the future (Thanks, fellow bloggers!). Actually, it is by no means just internet information that has me terrified, it's the news in general. I'm not going into deep specifics, but between climate change, peak oil, vanishing pollinators, and the economy, you can pick your poison. There are so many horsemen on the horizon, it looks like the Hunnish army. 

My sister met a lady and her family yesterday who recently moved to this area after doing a months long study about which regions were most likely to hold up best against climate change in the near-to-medium term. While it's nice to know that the place I live in topped their list, it's scary that my own fears are not unique, but that seemingly sane people are basing major life choices on similar considerations. 

I'm nowhere near as pessimistic as these folks are; they see only five more "normal" years before shit really begins to hit the fan. I think we'll have at least twenty - I mean here, in the prosperous and relatively lightly populated northwest of the United States, with it's stable government, abundant water resources, cheap hydroelectric power, and mild climate which gives a wide margin for change before becoming outright hostile. What the next twenty years will bring in, say, Australia or Central America is anybody's guess. 

But in the mid-to-long term, say forty or fifty years from now, I don't think anyone will be insulated from severe upheaval. So other than losing sleep, what can I do? I am obviously not going to amass the kind of fortune that could insulate my grandkids - if there even is any amount of money that could. So what then? I do have not inconsiderable monetary resources, and I think that very likely the most important decision I make over the next few decades will be timing the conversion  of those monetary resources into material resources. And deciding what those material resources should be.

I have a few ideas. Over the next ten years, I want to:

1. Put in a rain catchment system with an underground cistern. 

2. Create some energy creation capability. Not totally off-grid, but enough to run the chest freezer, the furnace fan, the cooktop, and a light or two. 

3. This isn't me, but I really hope Homero gets off his butt and gets the biodiesel processor working well. If he does, then I'd like to switch our heat from propane to biodiesel.

4. More realistically, we need an insert for the fireplace. That wouldn't totally solve the problem of how to heat the house when the power's out, since we'd still need to use the furnace fan to circulate air. Our house is weirdly long and skinny, and the fireplace is at one end. Of course, if the power goes out, we could all sleep in the living room. Wood is getting more expensive, but it shouldn't be a problem for us for some time. We own five wooded acres, and my brother in law works for a tree service company and gets tons of wood all the time. 

5. Make needed home repairs. This covers a lot of ground, since this house is a pile of rotten crap. Most immediately, we need to insulate. The old insulation is probably from the sixties, and it's shot. There's no insulation in the walls at all, nor under the house. There are many rotten spots where cold air comes through. We do have double pane windows, but also we have three big old sliding glass doors which are single pane. Winters are historically mild around here, but you never know. Last winter, we got four feet of snow and temperatures in the teens for weeks on end. The furnace was running full blast all the time just to keep the indoor temperature around sixty. 

6. Buy farming equipment. I don't want to get carried away, we only have five acres. I don't need a full sized tractor. But we need something better than the old Murray riding lawnmower which doesn't work. I need to be able to cut tall grass (brushmower, I guess) and to till. I want a machine with about 24 HP that can pull a decent rototiller. I guess diesel would be best, so it can run on our biodiesel. Or, alternatively, I'd better start training the pony (That's a joke, folks). 

7. Create a stockpile. This house has a truly wonderful amount of storage. It would be easy to put away a year's supply of food. No reason not to. Also, stockpile some medical supplies that keep well, like bandages, alcohol, iodine, etc. How about bug spray and sunscreen?

8. Let's not talk about security. I'm not a freak. 

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Trade Network Week Seven and Delicious Chicken

I don't know what week it is. But today the Kale Fairy gave me two heads of red leaf lettuce, a gallon sized ziploc bag of mixed salad greens, one of chard, and two of kale (one cavolo nero and one curly purple). Also, about seven turnips, two small heads of fennel, a big bunch of red carrots, and the most gargantuan bunch of italian flat leaf parsley I've ever seen. 

The fennel went into a lovely supper of my version of chicken cacciatore (well, it varies. This was tonight's version):

4 chicken thighs with skin and bone
1 fat yellow onion
2 small or one regular head of fennel
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp rosemary leaves
olive oil
1 cup white wine (I used Columbia Crest Sauvignon Blanc - delicious)
2 cans diced tomatoes

In a fair amount of olive oil, brown chicken thighs skin side down over pretty high heat. Flip. Give it a couple minutes and remove to a plate. In same skillet, cook onion, cut into ribbons, and fennel, same. When onion is wilted, add garlic and spices. Then pour in wine. Scrape with a spatula. Replace chicken. Add tomatoes. Turn and mix. Cover and simmer for half an hour or more, until chicken is easily shreddable. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with french bread and the rest of the wine. 


Chick Attrition

I know there are plenty of people who raise chickens out there. Do your chicks suffer the terrible infant mortality rate that mine do? The first hen who tried to raise chicks this year lost all five of hers over a period of a month or so. It was so sad, they each met a different grisly end, or just disappeared one by one until finally there were none. The poor mama hen ran around looking for them for a few days.... thankfully, the brain of a chicken is probably not up to the task of long term memory, nor is she likely capable of anything we might call grief. 

When the next hen hatched out three chicks, I determined to keep them in the mama barn until they were well and truly ready to leave. I think it was more than six weeks. They were pretty well half grown by the time I let them out. Even so, one has disappeared, about two weeks after making its barnyard debut. The other two are old enough that they no longer stick with their mother, although they do stick with each other pretty well. 

This newest batch of chicks numbered five. How old are they? Three days? One's gone. It somehow got left in the nestbox and apparently couldn't get out when mama and the other four left it. When I went out to milk this morning, I noticed that mama only had four chicks. I looked for the fifth, and found it alone in the nestbox. At first I thought it was dead, but it wasn't, just extremely cold. After I held it cupped in my hands and breathed on it for a few minutes, it seemed to revive a little bit, so I put it back under mama hen (who tried to attack it). Maybe.....

No. This afternoon, there were only four again. This time I couldn't find the little body. I will, I'm sure, when I'm least expecting to. I'm just not sure what more I can do to try and protect the baby chicks and give them the best chance at survival. They are alone with their mama hen in a closed barn; no other chickens or other animals can get at them. They have special baby chick food and water in a tiny waterer made for chicks (which I bought after a chick drowned in a regular waterer). Mama hen seems fairly competent. Yet I've lost seven out of thirteen born this year. Is this just the natural death rate for chickens? Good lord.

Maybe I ought to let all the broody hens have a crack at raising chicks. If I have seven or eight hens trying, maybe a decent number of babies will survive.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Chick Update

Homero is opening eggs which he says are peeping. He is doing it on camera for his relatives in Oaxaca. Thank the Lord I haven't the technical savvy to do what he asked and set up this computer so we could watch, too. It's a thoroughly disgusting procedure.

If the peeping eggs yield up living chicks, there will be at least five.

Remote Post - Heat and Chicks

I'm frying down here in Tucson. Daytime temperatures have not dipped below 104 or so since I got here. Nightime temperatures hover in the high 80's. The water in dad's pool is warmer than blood. I hate it. I told dad he better not ever have any kind of crisis in the summertime; I won't come. It's christmas, thanksgiving, or nothing doing from now on.

I know I've crossed the line between reporting and just plain whining, but I can't help it. The van I'm driving down here has air conditioning, sort of, at least it blows air at the people in the front seat that is marginally less hot than the air outside. But I find that even if I park as close to the doors of the store/restaurant/mall as possible, the walk across the blacktop parking lot makes me feel like fainting. You never see anybody on the sidewalks. People live entirely indoors just as if it were January in Minnesota. I realize I'm rather a wimp when it comes to heat, but personally I can't figure out why anybody ever decided this part of the world was fit for human habitation.

I can't help but wonder if it used to be normal to have two solid months of above hundred degree heat every year without respite. I can't help but wonder what it will be like in ten or twenty years. It's scary to contemplate. We have a friend who lives in Mexicali, Mexico - not so very far from here - who told us that for a few days earlier in the summer, the temperature was in the mid 120's. Don't proteins start to denature at about that temperature? Don't people actually start to literally cook in their own skins?

Okay, okay. I'm done for now. In other news - Homero found more baby chicks. He told me on the phone last night that when he went out to the barn for the evening feeding, he saw three tiny newly hatched chicks on the floor. There was no mother hen in sight. Careful inspection of the hayloft revealed a black hen on a nest with several more eggs in it, one of them in mid-hatch. My silly husband put the baby chicks back up in the hayloft with their mom. No, no, I said, you have to bring the mother hen down, eggs and all, and make her a nest on the ground in the mama barn where they'll be safe. If you put the babies back up, they'll just fall off the edge again and freeze during the night. The mother hen won't leave her nest for a couple of days yet. He said he'd do that.

Homero seems to be taking care of everything just fine, at least according to his telephone reports. He says he's not bothering to separate the baby bucklings anymore because they've learned to nurse through the fence. We'll have to see what we can do about that. He's got far too much milk even so, and says he doesn't know what to do with it all now that I'm not making cheese with it. He's eating cereal with milk for breakfast lunch and dinner, along with fried eggs and frozen pizzas. Ah, freedom.

I'm ready to get home.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Here is a picture of Homero's shop, as of the day before yesterday. It's even bigger now. For perspective, that's a pretty honkin' big truck parked in front of it. Eventually - hopefully by sometime next week - the shop will be 35 feet wide and 60 feet long, and 17 feet tall (which it already is.). The guys are working fourteen hour days, and I am cooking up a storm three times a day to keep them fed.  

My brother-in-law, Fransisco, came out from Atlanta to help, and he brought his girlfriend with him. Her name is Iris (Like my goat, but I didn't tell her that) and she's from Honduras.  I'm really enjoying spending time with her and learning about Honduran food. That girl can break down a chicken, let me tell you. She took it from alive and clucking to in the stew pot in about fifteen minutes flat. And it was good, too.  Maybe later I'll write up a recipe for Honduran chicken stew.                       

Tomorrow morning early, I'm headed to Arizona to visit my dad, with all three kids in tow. Homero will be in charge of the farm for a week. There's not much to it this time of year: throw a little hay at everybody in the mornings, feed the chickens, and keep the water buckets topped up. Shouldn't take him away from his shop too much. 

But he must milk Iris. I'll leave the baby goats on the moms, and he won't separate them at night, so that will help, but Iris' buckling is so big now, he's really not nursing very much. If Homero doesn't milk iris in the afternoons, her production will go way down. He is not a very good milker, so I'll just have to hope for the best. I've been making cheese like a mad cheesemakin' demon, so I'll have cheese to take with me to Arizona and cheese when I come home. 

It was silly of me to get so much produce two days before I left. I had to pickle late at night yesterday, but I got all the cucumbers processed. Bread and butter, all of them, because I didn't have any fresh dill. I'm leaving poor Iris with a mountain of zucchini to eat. I told her she should use up as much produce as she can while I'm gone. 

Most likely I won't post while I'm away. See y'all in a week.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

High Summer Trade in High Gear

Today I brought six dozen eggs to the farmer's market and came home with three pounds of pickling cukes, three bunches of chiogga beets, two regular cucumbers, five enormous zucchinis, four pounds of string beans, a bunch of epazote and a giant bunch of parsley. It made a pretty big pile on the kitchen table. Now I need to use it all up or preserve it.

I know what you are asking yourself: really, FIVE zucchini? 

I've made two more rounds of "Smokin' Goat" chilpotle cheddar, and another is in process today. I'm planning to take some to my dad when I go to Arizona next week. It's really very good cheese.
I'm extremely proud of myself.

Homero is building his shop. It's gigantic, a true eyesore on the horizon, and I assume the neighbors all despise us now. I certainly would. Oh well, it keeps my husband happy, and it's big enough to hide most of the junked cars he loves so dearly, so it's all good.

Next time I get a minute to post, I'll appraise you of the thistle situation.

It's pretty dire.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Goat in the House

This is going to be a little hard to explain on the computer, but I'll try.

We have a backyard which is only accessible through our sunroom. To get to the backyard, you have to go through the sunroom, either from the sliding glass doors that lead out of our bedroom, or through the sliding glass doors that lead out into the rest of the property that isn't the backyard. If you follow my drift. 

The backyard is fenced, because that's where we usually put the dogs. But the grass is getting awfully high, and as you can (hopefully) imagine, it's pretty hard to get the lawnmower into the backyard to mow. If it even worked, which it hasn't since May. 

So I decided to put the goats in the backyard for a few hours. I led them through the sunroom with some grain in a bowl, closed them in, and let them go to town on the grass and weeds. I myself got a nice cold beer and sat out in the "rest of the property" composing a poem.

After a while, Hope came running out yelling "Mom! Mom! Iris is in the house!" I thought she meant, in the sunroom. Nope. She wasn't in the sunroom. "Where in the house?" I yelled. "In our room!" Hope answered. By the time I got there, she was in the living room. 

Luckily, I got her out of the house before she pooped. I'm still not sure of the exact sequence of events that let Iris get out of the backyard, through the sunroom, and into the house, but I think it's best to let them remain shrouded in mystery.

After all, it's not such a big deal. My sister has been living with two goats in her house for almost two months now.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Handy Man is Good to Find...?

This post is about my dear husband. My husband, Homero, has many fine qualities. Why, just from the above picture you can see two of them for yourself. He's a fabulous, loving father and a damn handsome man. There are plenty of other fine qualities. I could probably list them all day: he's a hardworking provider, an honest-to-God family man, and he's even a good dancer. 

But (ladies, we knew there was a "but" coming, didn't we?) he's also handy. Oh, handy is good, you say? Well, yes, you'd think so. Yes, I guess, it is. It's handy to have a handy man around. Sometimes. If - and this is a big if - the handy man in question knows exactly what he is handy at and what he is NOT. 

Homero is handy at a fair number of things. He's Mexican, and in Mexico, people do for themselves a lot more than folks up here are generally speaking accustomed to doing. By the time he was seventeen, for example, he'd built an entire house, plumbing and electrical included, with his three brothers. And I'll be the first to admit, that house is still standing. It's a pretty nice house, in fact. But they didn't have to worry about things like following code, see. They could just pay off the inspector. 

Homero can fix just about any mechanical problem you care to throw at him. Cars, of course, but also all kinds of household stuff like the sump-pump or the heating fan. It's great not to have to call professionals for this sort of thing. It saves us tons of money. Hooray.

But it really, really sucks not to be able to call a professional for the things that my dear husband thinks he can do but actually cannot. As I sit here, there is a two-by-two foot hole in my house that goes all the way from the inside to the outside. The world's biggest raccoon would have no trouble crawling through this hole and marauding around my house in the middle of the night. If I thought there were bear around here, I would worry that a bear would crawl through the hole and kill us all in our sleep because the hole is that big. The hole has already admitted a thousands-strong throng of mosquitos. 

Homero was fixing the sink. To be fair, I have in fact been bitching about the leak under the sink for - oh, I'm going to say two years now. I knew for a fact that there was a lot of rotten wood behind and beneath the kitchen sink. I did not know for a fact that Homero was going to tear it all out when he fixed the leak. I thought we would hire a professional to do that part.

My dear, dear husband is many things, but a carpenter is NOT one of them. I wish I could convince him of that simple fact. Actually, he is not a plumber either. I have no running water in the kitchen. I am doing all the dishes in the utility sink in the laundry room.

So here's the question I am asking myself. Which is more important, my dear husband's ego, or running water and an intact exterior wall on my house? Before you answer, remember that I have made a solemn vow to live with this man for the rest of my life. A bruised male ego can easily take that long to heal. How long do I allow him to rectify the situation before I go over his head and call a contractor? 

It would take a lot of frickin' propane to heat the house this coming winter with a hole that a bear could crawl through in the north wall.