"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Becoming a Science Blog and Planning for the Distant Future

Well, okay, more of an amateur naturalist blog.

My sister, when she bought her house from very serious gardeners, inherited their garden journal. This handwritten diary contains all sorts of interesting information, such as which plants do well in which areas of the property; what kind of birds visit the feeders in which seasons, et cetera. It also includes important seasonal information going back well over a decade: the dates of the first and last frost, when the first crocuses emerged, when the fruit trees blossomed, and such like.

The bizarre weather these last couple of years (100 degree plus summers, drought, freak snowstorms and record low temperatures one winter followed by virtually no winter at all the following year) may be nothing more than a temporary aberration, but I don't believe that. I think that our local climate is beginning to show the wild variability predicted by all the computer models of climate change.

My guess is that the local climate twenty or thirty or fifty or a hundred years from now will not closely adhere to historical norms, if indeed it is recognizable at all. It may be that the climate becomes so variable as to defy reliable prediction - which would be a terrible tragedy - but I think it more likely that it will gradually become some sort of other, relatively predictable climate that we are not used to. Maybe we will become a mediterranean-type climate. Maybe Seattle will be more like San Francisco, and Vancouver, B.C. more like Seattle.

Or Seattle more like L.A. and Vancouver more like San Francisco.

In either case, a farmer trying to eke out a subsistence living on this here piece of land would probably be really, really happy to have a log dating back to to 2010 detailing first and last frost dates, blossom times, first fruits, and rainfall patterns. Even without looking so far ahead, it's entirely likely that I myself could benefit from such a garden log.

So for the benefit of future farmers - I am adding the new tag "seasons" (and I will go back and place this tag on old posts) on all posts that contain information about the timing of the seasons (there is a word for this but I can't think of it. Anybody?). I would welcome information from local bloggers - meaning, say, anyone from Mount Vernon, WA to Vancouver B.C.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

First Trade of the Year

Well, it isn't really a trade if I give something but don't get anything back, is it?

I advertised on Craigslist for a vegetable gardener interested in trading for eggs, since the Kale Fairy (alas) is moving out of town and won't be putting in a garden this year. A young lady answered me and said she grows a pretty good vegetable garden every year, and also lots of herbs for her cottage industry, which is goat's milk soaps and lotions.

Perfect! I expect to have a serious surplus of goat's milk by May.

I offered to start giving her eggs right away and simply keep track of how many dozens she has received until she has garden produce to trade. In the past, I have always offered this possibility (since I have surplus eggs starting in January, but no gardener will have surplus produce until at least May) but no gardener has taken me up on it before. The Kale Fairy always preferred to pay cash for eggs until she could begin to trade straight across. But Soap Gal said "that sounds great!" and hopped right over to pick up two dozen eggs.

I admit I am just a little worried now. There are all sorts of things that can happen to a mostly imaginary garden between now and May. Everyone has grandiose garden plans in January. I do myself. Few people actually manage to put in the garden they believe they will put in. What if, in late May, I've given her twenty-seven dozen eggs and she has nothing to give me but some arugula and fifteen bars of soap?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Napoleon in the Garden

It was a productive day on the farm, although it doesn't look like much.

It surprises me how much work it is to fill and then empty a (large) wheelbarrow twice. That's basically what I did. Well, okay, I also sawed the top off of a couple of tires. I admit I used an electric saw, but that's still more work than you think it is. Previously, I had used a hacksaw to take the tops off of two tires and I thought my arm was gonna fall off by the time I was done.

Why am I sawing up tires? Well, I've decided that this year, I'm going to an all-container garden design, and tires are economical, seeing as how we have a buttload of them lying around doing nothing. Three years in a row, the weeds have kicked my ass all the way home, and I consider that a decisive loss on my part. Only an idiot wouldn't change his tactics, and I, my friends, am no idiot.

Tires do not represent the full scope of my battle plan: No; I also have a pair of recycled bathtubs and an old half wine barrel. Plus four or five rather large plastic bins of the type that nurseries sell trees in, and a flotilla of milk crates lined with cardboard boxes (the kind that once housed half-racks of Pacifico beer, Mexico's finest).

My troops consist of my own two arms (weak) and a pick, a pitchfork, a shovel, a rake, and the fruit of my loins. Two of them are under seven years old, and the other one is a surly teenager, so that means I'm fairly on my own. Oh yeah, and the husband can occasionally called to action for an hour or so.

The artillery is my compost pile. A heap of well-rotted straw, mixed animal poop, and food scraps about eight feet by six feet by three feet high; fluffy, golden, and virgin above, black as the stygian depths beneath. Each of my containers was filled halfway with deep, dark compost, and then filled the rest of the way with topsoil displaced from Homero's shop project.

Since the soil was until extremely recently a foot or so underground, I think it will be relatively free of weed seeds. I plan to go ahead and plant spinach, radishes, and peas quite soon and then cover my containers with plastic wrap. That ought to keep the seedlings safe from my other enemies: the chickens.

The children were out playing all afternoon while I worked. About four o-clock, they came running to inform me they found a bird's nest in the big tree and would I please come and take a picture. I did, and here it is.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Going, Going.... Goodbye!

Alas, they've started work on the 7,000 square foot behemoth next door. Six months from now, my gorgeous eastern view, which I appreciated every single time I went out to feed the animals (and the weather was fine) will be utterly gone. A 12,000 foot mountain - blotted out! The sunrise - obliterated!

Ah hell.

I know, I'm being hideously overly dramatic. But damn, I love that view.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

Well that was fun!

I had a very relaxing few days with my two best girlfriends and very nearly achieved my long-held dream of spending an entire day in Powell's books (Powell's Books - Used, New, and Out of Print - We Buy and Sell) all by my lonesome. I could have, if I'd wanted to, but as it turned out I was a little bit worn out and decided to come home a day early and save some money on another night in a hotel. So I only spent about four hours in Powell's books, and if any of you have ever been there, you know that's a laughably inadequate amount of time. It bills itself as the largest bookstore in the United States, and I really think it might be.

Everything is still standing here at home. The Huns, it seems, have not ravaged the place, nor has any animal or child expired, nor did plague or fire break out. So. I'm not QUITE as indispensable as I thought I was. Hmm. Meditate on that.

There were a few things I noticed. Nobody collected eggs while I was gone, so there were nineteen eggs waiting for me, and some of them had gotten rather dirty. Big whoop. And my goats, who I had thought were in advanced pregnancy, were very deflated. Homero has constantly been telling me I feed them too much, and perhaps he is right. What I thought was a bunch of kids was apparently only big ol' hay bellies.

I don't really understand this, because everyone I know says to feed your goats free choice hay, which is what I try to do - I can't actually give them as much as they'd eat because they would go through a bale a day, easy. And that's just crazy. But I do give them a good flake apiece, morning and evening, plus an hour or so out browsing most days. I haven't asked Homero, but I'm sure he's been giving them less than I do. He's terribly cheap. But he might be right.

The weather has turned back in the direction of a little more normal for January - it's still well above average temperatures, but it's no longer sunny and fifty-five. More like grey, rainy, breezy, and forty-two.

I like it. I'm home.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mini-Vacation From the Farm

I am off to visit my two best girlfriends for my birthday and will be gone for three days... the longest stretch I've left my husband in charge of everything - kids, animals, housework, cooking....

Here's hoping everything is still standing when I get back!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Eagles Land Again

Boy, one squished possum sure can make for an exciting day of bird-watching! This morning there was some fresh roadkill right at the end of our driveway. Lancelot, our big dumb collie-dog, went right out onto the highway to check it out, so Homero used the toe of his boot to move it onto the lawn.

A few hours later, when I went out to let the goats out for a while, I heard an eerie sound halfway between a screech and the chirp of the world's largest canary. Looking up, I saw no fewer than three bald eagles - two adults and a juvenile - perched in the tall trees along the western fence line.

Over the next half hour, I watched them swooping down to the ground and lifting off again, circling and apparently fighting in the air. They moved from tree to tree to telephone pole, generally looking regal and photogenic.

It must be getting on towards nesting season, no? I always hope that a pair will choose to nest near enough for me to watch them. The very first year we were here, a couple raised a chick somewhere close by, and taught him or her to fly in the neighbor's big field, but we never did see the nest. I'll keep my eyes open this year!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fear of Pruning and Unseasonable Weather

Very strange couple of weeks we've been having, weather-wise. After the cold snap ended, about three weeks ago, we entered an unseasonable warm spell. The mercury has been hovering between forty and fifty. For a while it was rainy and gloomy, then crazy windy, and yesterday the sun came out and hasn't stopped shining since.

Sunshine combined with warmth has made everyone and everything become suddenly springlike. The neighbor's pussy willow is very fuzzy. Even the earliest of the alders are showing their catkins. This is all just ridiculous - it's the middle of January, for Pete's sake.

This blackberry vine is covered in tight little green buds, something I don't think I've seen before mid-February before.

I figured I'd better prune the fruit trees before the begin to blossom. Now, let it be known that I have never ever pruned a fruit tree myself before, even though I have, over the years, planted some twenty of them. I'm terrified I'm going to kill them. But today I was out with the goats by the trees and I looked down and lo and behold, there was a hoof trimmer lying there on the ground, so I figured what the hell. Why call somebody when I could do it myself? I HAVE read about it enough. I DO know the basic theory.

Here is a picture of one of the pears before pruning. Pear trees have a strong tendency to turn into thorn bushes after a year or two without pruning. Our giant old antique pear is in need of serious pruning, and I can't handle that myself, but this pear is still little enough I thought I might be a match for it.

Here is the same tree five minutes later. Probably I could have trimmed quite a bit more, but I didn't want to get carried away. You can see I've taken off several of the lowest, smallest branches and generally thinned the tree out a bit, removing inner branches that cross over each other. There is also some rule about removing branches that form too narrow of an angle with the trunk - you want an angle greater than thirty degrees - but I didn't remove all of those. Too much of a softie I guess. Or a coward.

Lastly, here is a picture of Flopsy and Iris out enjoying the fresh green grass. They look extremely pregnant. Either they are both carrying triplets, or they were bred by Cloud and will give birth well before April.

I kind of hope it's the latter. I don't want to wait so long for baby goats!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Got My Goat Back

Storm Cloud, AKA the world's prettiest goat, returned to the farm yesterday.

I rented him out to a neighbor as a stud a month ago (which is when this photo was taken) even though he was pretty young still and I wasn't sure if he'd be able to "do the deed." I warned them that he was unproven and said I'd give them all the time they needed and unlimited breedings for $50 - a steal if he managed to breed all their does.

Meanwhile, I myself rented a mature, proven buck (Yanto) to breed my own does. He cost me $75 for a month - and as it turns out, I think that Storm had already bred most of my does before he even got here. Iris and Flopsy are both looking EXTREMELY pregnant. In some ways, this is annoying: I don't know when they will give birth, and I may have wasted $75. But in another way, it's very cool: I get a chance to see what kind of kids Storm throws, and I get early kids and milk sooner than I expected.

In any case, if I subtract the $50 stud fee for Storm from the $75 stud fee I paid out for Yanto, my total stud fee for this year is only $25, as compared to $150 last year. That's a big improvement, especially is Iris and Flopsy both throw twins, which looks likely. Iris could even throw triplets, she's that big already.

The only really bad thing is that Storm came back from the other farm with lice. They aren't the kind that are transmissible to humans, but they surely are transmissible top other goats and now I have to treat my whole herd. The dusting powder I get at the farm store works well, and it isn't expensive, so it's only a minor nuisance. That's the main issue of sending your animals off to another farm - you just don't know unless you are willing to become a complete control freak and inspect their animals and demand test results for everything under the sun.

I may get to that point if I feel it necessary, but I'd really rather not.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Farm Planning, and Aesthetics Versus Practicality

I think I'm stealing this from somebody, but there's nothing to make you contemplate the future like planting a tree.

Shortly, I'll be planting seven of them. I expect my shipment from Trees of Antiquity within a couple of weeks. For those of you who have asked, that's four apples - Ashmead's Kernal, Golden Russet, Hauer Pippin, and Saint Edmund's Pippin -, a Stella Cherry and a Bavay's Green Gage Plum. There's also the Christmas tree to plant - a Korean Spruce, if anybody cares.

So today I was walking the property during the twenty minutes of sunshine we enjoyed just before sundown, checking out the orchard and trying to decide where to plant my new trees. Walking the prop was a pretty squishy proposition. It has been raining pretty steadily - not to say unceasingly - for the last week, and even the highest and driest parts of my land are not so dry.

Wet wet wet wet wet wet wet. My boots were making an icky squelching sound on the lawn. The hole that is left over from the burial and re-emergence of the famous roadkill deer (The Redneck Rubicon (WARNING - GRAPHIC)) is in the middle of the orchard, and it has a foot of water in it. Everything I have been reading about fruit trees tells me that they hate having their "feet wet." I was planning on simply expanding the existing orchard where it sits by planting my six trees in two rows of three directly to the north. However, I doubt that is a good idea. It just isn't the best place for trees.

I know that this is most likely one of the wettest weeks of the year, and that the ground will not probably be so saturated for more than a few weeks a year. But even so, there are better places on my farm to plant than this one. If I want my new trees to live, I should look for several different spots here and there suitable for one or two trees - break them up and give each tree the best chance it can have. And furthermore, who knows what the future brings? According to the newest research (What Could 4 Degree Warming Mean For The World?) I can expect my area to experience MORE seasonal heavy rainfall.

I love the idea of having an orchard, a discrete area given over to fruit trees, rather than simply scattering them here and there helter skelter all over the landscape. In fact, I really like the idea of having several discrete landscapes, as it were... or habitats.... here, the vegetable garden... there, the barnyard, and over here, the fruit tree grove. Over there, the fishpond. Yon, the lawn with it's playground, complete with adorable children in pastel dresses chasing butterflies. You get it.

Five acres is not really a very big homestead, especially when you consider than fully half of it is pasture and of what remains, the house and it's immediate environs takes up a big chunk, and my husband's shop another one. Breaking it up into separate "habitats" provides visual interest, varied opportunities for recreation, and not least, a sense of satisfaction in laying out my kingdom according to my will and plan. It's annoying to have to abandon that vision because of certain facts of the terrain.

Hmm. Who said "there is nothing more disappointing than the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact?"


Perhaps there is another kind of aesthetics I could aspire to. A more organic one. If I let my farm grow according to the dictates of it's real nature - that is, plant trees where trees might thrive, regardless of where I think they'd look best, and put the garden where the sun is hottest, et cetera - maybe I will come to appreciate the beauty that comes from the true potential of the place, rather than continuing to wrestle with nature to force it to produce something approaching my vision - a Sisyphean task doomed to failure in any case.

Is that enough of a run-on sentence for y'all? Maybe I should concentrate on following the organic nature of the English language and not try to bend it to my evil will, eh?

Anyway. The goddamn Christmas tree is going along the western fenceline and that's that.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Food Transformations (AKA Creative Use of Leftovers)

Would you guess that this gorgeous loaf of sourdough bread is actually a transformation of a couple of leftover sweet potatoes?

I've always been what I like to call a "creative re-purposer" of leftover food, but ever since I received the gift of some 75 year old sourdough starter last year, I've been experimenting a lot with baking, and I've discovered that the process is actually quite amenable to using up all sorts of leftovers.

Items which can be felicitously incorporated into a loaf of bread include (but are not limited to):

rice, white or brown

oatmeal, instant or steel cut, sweetened or not

mashed potatoes

cooked polenta

cheese scraps - the bits and pieces that are getting a little bit hard. Grate it first.

yogurt - my kids often seriously over-serve themselves with yogurt and frozen blueberries or raspberries. This can be scraped right out of their bowls into the batter. Don't worry, you're going to bake it at 375 degrees for an hour.

fresh herbs - I don't know about you but I can always find a third of a bunch of parsley or a couple of green onions that are not quite looking their best anytime I open the crisper drawer. I am extremely picky about fresh herbs when I plan to scatter them over a finished dish, but considerably less so for applications like cheese sauce or herb bread.

refried beans or hummus

Obviously, some of these items work better for sweet breads and others for savory ones. This bread I made today is a sweet bread. I had two leftover baked sweet potatoes, and although I had never tried it before, I could imagine a kind of delicious sweet egg-bread (a la challah or brioche) made from them. As it turns out, I left the bread to rise too long and so it isn't very sweet, but it's still delicious.

And actually, my taste-vision is still alive, because I just had a stroke of genius. Never believe that leftovers can only be used once! Food is eternally reincarnated. My sweet potato bread will rise again in the form of french toast with maple syrup!

Sweet Potato Sourdough

Make a chef with a cup of sourdough starter, a cup of flour and a half to three quarters cup of lukewarm water. Beat well. Leave overnight at cool-room temperature in a VERY large bowl.

In the morning, smash your sweet potatoes in a medium bowl. Add a cup of sugar, a teaspoon or more of cinnamon and three eggs. Lay out in front of you the VERY large bowl with the chef in it (which should be big and poofy), the sweet potato mixture, and a bag of flour (whole wheat, white, or some of each. I like to use about half and half.).

Add the sweet potato mixture to the chef and beat with a wooden spoon until fairly well incorporated. Dump in a few cups of flour and keep beating until you pretty much can't anymore - the dough will clump up around the spoon. Scrape dough off spoon and get ready to knead. I knead right in the bowl, myself. Just keep dipping your hand into the bag of flour (white and wheat alternately, in my case) and knead until the dough gets sticky. Then dip up some more flour.

Since I don't measure at all, I really can't help you with that. Hopefully you've made lots of bread before and can recognize the smooth, silky, almost bouncy feel of good dough. This particular dough will be a little bit slack and sticky. That's okay.

When you think it's at the right place, let it rise in the oven with the light on for an hour. As I discovered, this dough rises quickly because of the sugar. When nearly doubled in bulk, remove and knead very gently and quickly for a minute or two and turn out onto a baking sheet. Slash the top with a knife. Let rise for another fifteen minutes while you preheat the oven to 375.

Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour, rotating once. Bread is done when deeply browned and makes a nice thumping sound when lightly whacked on the bottom. And when you have floated off to heaven on the scent emanating from it.

Eat with lots of butter and a mug of hot chocolate. Don't blame me when you've eaten the whole thing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Expanding Orchard

Trees of Antiquity is a fantastic nursery that specializes in heirloom fruit trees. After drooling for several days over their online catalogue, I wrote to them asking if they could help me pick some apple varieties suitable to my microclimate (wet n' windy) and needs (cider, lots of it!). I included all the information I had to hand about my property - the climactic zone, the annual rainfall and high/low temperature averages - all easy to google - and my personal preferences about apples. One of their experts e-mailed me back the very next day with a number of suggestions.

Their trees are organically raised and shipped at five feet in height, bare root, at the appropriate time of year for planting in your climate. I am personally delighted to be helping to propogate some rare heirloom varieties, and I can't wait until I have some fancy new apples (in two or three years, alas!). I also ordered a cherry and a plum tree. Check out this site; even if you don't have room for an orchard, you might be able to squeeze in a tree or two wherever you are. They have some tips on varieties for small spaces.

Back when I lived in the city, I planted five fruit trees on your basic city lot. I sorely miss my Bing cherry tree - at only ten years of age it was producing some fifty pounds of cherries - not even counting what the birds and the neighbors ate!

Enough Eggs

The chickens must be extremely sensitive to light. Even though the days have been dark and dreary since the New Year, several hens have started to lay. If I didn't have a calendar, I could use chickens to tell me when the solstice was past and the spring around the corner!

For the last week, I've been getting three or four eggs a day. I now have enough so that I don't need to calculate my menus based on how many eggs needed; I can assume there will be enough eggs in the fridge for whatever I choose. I will very soon have enough to begin trading again!

Actually, I have an egg debt left over from last year. My trade partner the Kale Fairy decided, late in the season, after she'd already given me a full CSA share of organic veggies, that she didn't want a butchered baby goat after all (which was what we had bargained). So I gave her eggs and goat cheese as long as they lasted, but by late October those things pretty much dry up and I hadn't nearly worked off my egg-debt. So I think for several weeks my egg surplus is spoken for.

However, by the time the farmer's market opens in May, I ought to have eggs galore!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Advice From Our Elders

I found the most amazing web site, where full text articles and even books on all sorts of agricultural topics are offered free. They are all either in the public domain or there by express permission, so there is no trouble about copyrights. I've just spent a leisurely hour browsing, and found something I want to read in full.

Yes, Cato the Roman lived 2,200 years ago. Surely agriculture has changed a lot. But good advice about it has not! As a small example, I'll give you a couple of paragraphs from Cato on choosing a farm site. I know many of you out there are at the dreaming-about-farming stage and may be looking for land. Well, this very old advice is still valid. I've inserted a few notes; they will be in italics.

Buying and Developing a Farm

Selecting the Property
1. When thinking of running a farm, always remember: do not buy on a whim, take the trouble to visit, do not suppose a single look will be enough (anyone who has bought a house in haste can agree with this!) If it is a good property, then the more you go, the happier you will be. Notice the looks of the neighbours. In a good district, they ought to look well. And while you visit and inspect, leave yourself a way out.
(again, it's hard to argue with that!)

It must have good weather; it must not be liable to storms. It must thrive from its own excellence and from its good location: if possible, it should be at the root of a mountain, south-facing, in a healthy position ( let's think about these factors: I think being at the root of a mountain is meant to ensure water supply from streams and springs, or seasonal melt. You may think that water is not an issue in this day and age, but it certainly might be, depending on where you live. And the times they are a changin'; places with marginal or expensive water today might have none tomorrow. South facing is good for obvious reasons, but certainly not essential. Storms are problematic no matter where you are. My farm, for example, is in a generally mild area, but I happen to be in a very exposed and windy microclimate on top of a hill, and subject to very severe windstorms: something I did not know when we bought. This is a serious consideration when planting trees and building shelters for animals. It's also just a flat-out pain in the tuchus when you are going out to do chores in sixty mile an hour winds) . There must be plenty of labour and a good water supply. There must be a sizeable town nearby, or the sea, or a river used for traffic, or a good and well-known road. It should be one of the properties that is not always changing its owners, and whose sellers regret having had to sell. (We thought long and hard about how far we wanted to be from town, and also from larger cities beyond the nearest town. Be realistic about this - living in the country is nice, being very isolated is not, at least for most people. Think about driving conditions in winter - will you be snowed in for long periods? How close is your nearest neighbor?)

It should have good buildings: never carelessly dismiss another’s expertise. It is better to buy from a good husbandman and a good builder (I second that!!). When you come to the farm buildings, check that there are plenty of presses and vats (remember that the lack of them means a lack of produce) but not too much farm equipment. It is to be in a good position: see that it is not wasteful, and requires the least possible equipment. A property, like a man, may bring money in, yet be so wasteful that little is left.

If you ask me what would make a farm the first choice, I will say this: varied ground, a prime position and a hundred iugera; then, first the vineyard (or an abundance of wine), second an irrigated kitchen garden, third a willow wood, fourth an olive field, fifth a meadow, sixth a grain-field, seventh a plantation of trees, eighth an orchard, ninth an acorn wood. (an iugera is equal to about 0.6 of an acre, so 100 of them would mean a 60 acre farm. I doubt many of us are looking for something that large - though we can all dream, can't we?- however, the rest of this paragraph still applies even to a place of only an acre or two. Varied ground provides a variety of microclimates for various purposes and provides visual interest. Translate irrigated kitchen garden into a nice spot for a few raised vegetable beds. Willow wood and olive field can be taken to refer to a fruit orchard - make sure they ate healthy and have a good situation. The plantation of trees can provide -depending on the type of trees - privacy, wind-screening, fodder for animals, food or medicine, or all of things. The meadow can be thought of as either a grazing field for livestock, a hayfield, or on a smaller place, as a lawn and open space for children to play.)

I am so happy I found this site. if you want something a little more recent that Cato, there's plenty to choose from. Enjoy!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Hoof Rot

Trimmed the goat's hooves today. Best argument I can think of for having only three goats. Trimming is nasty, and dangerous. I got through it this time without spilling any blood (human or caprine) but that is by no means a given. In the past I have cut both myself and the goat deeply enough to require pressure, iodine, and bandages.

Since trimming hooves is such a tough job, I tend to procrastinate. I'm afraid I must confess that my goat's hooves looked like crap. My photos turned out terrible, but the above picture is the best of the bunch. Ignore the dirt - of course hooves are always dirty. But can you see the bright white hoof wall along the outside edge? And the dark line between that and the yellowish interior of the hoof? That dark line is a gap, a space between the hard hoof wall and the softer inner surface of the hoof. And that gap is packed with crap.


Regular trimming is supposed to eliminate that gap, so that the hard shell of the hoof adheres closely to the soft inside and there is nowhere for dirt and manure to collect. Packed-in manure can lead, as you might imagine, to infections and disability. In severe cases, the infection reaches the bone and goat is crippled. This infection is called hoof-rot.

My goats are fine - they aren't lame at all. However, they do indeed have spots of hoof rot. There are varying opinions on the preventability of hoof rot - my veterinarian told me that in this wet climate, some amount of hoof rot is pretty much inevitable. You just watch them closely and when you find hoof rot you trim vigilantly and frequently. The wet winter (and fall, and spring..) months are conducive to hoof rot. Just keep the barn dry and trim, trim, trim. In the summer months, it tends to resolve.

Two of my does have only very small spots on one hoof each, but the last doe has fairly extensive rot in one of her front hooves. I need to commit to trimming every two weeks (as opposed to every four-to six weeks normally) until the issue is resolved.

Wish me luck - I don't want to lose a finger.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Lard Lover

Yup, I admit it - freely, proudly, unashamedly. I am a lard-lover. All day long, I have been slowly, lovingly rendering several pounds of pork-fat into lard. It's not hard - all you have to do is heat the fat over medium heat and stir every half-hour or so. It's almost unbelievable how beguiling is the smell in my kitchen. It smells like bacon, but smoother, richer, softer.... it's like bacon in love.

Lard, of course, is wonderful all by itself. Long live the immortal Calvin Trillian and his battle cry - "fried in pure lard!" Anything from a donut to an ethereal piece of fried chicken is made magic by baptism in pure pork fat. That's just not in question. It looks like I will be getting a gallon or so of pure, white, sweet manteca... surely cause for rejoicing. I plan to pour it through cheesecloth into half-gallon mason jars and refrigerate them to be used by the tablespoon well into summer.

But I didn't realize that I would be getting a major bonus. As the fat melts, the skin and connective tissue left behind has turned into chicharrones. For those who are unfamiliar with these gorgeous, delicious snacks, maybe you will remember them as "cracklings" from the Laura and Mary books. They are the deep brown, crispy-crunchy morsels left over from the rendering process. I suppose there are many ways to eat them, but I like the Mexican way, with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and plenty of hot sauce.

Just now I scooped them out of the stock-pot full 'o lard with a wide sieve and threw them onto cookie-sheets covered with several layers of newspaper to drain. The liquid lard I am pouring through my melitta coffee filter into wide mouth mason jars. Looks like about a gallon, just as I thought.

Yummy-yummy-yum-yum. I feel terribly decadent. Sinful, almost. Pray for me!

Everybody Hates Pigs, and Confessions of Laziness

Our pigpen is pretty squalid this time of year. When we don't have a pig in the pen, it serves as a place to pitch the old straw and horse manure until I feel strong enough to get the wheelbarrow and haul it all out to the official compost pile. We were without a pig for several months, so the pile got pretty high. I did move some of it before we put the pig in there, but I have to admit, thew pile was still pretty high when the pig moved in. I rationalized my laziness in two ways: 1) my knee freakin' hurts, and 2) the pig will actually enjoy rooting around in there and turning the pile for me, thus facilitating the pile's transformation into compost.

There's no doubt that both those things are true. The pig does like digging in the pile. He has turned over most of it, in fact, and dug deep holes. But even if the pig is happy (which is not something I can tell for sure, not being a pig expert) I was feeling guilty. Especially after a week of rain. Most of his pen was mud-soup, belly high on a little pig. He does of course have his doghouse full of dry straw, but anytime he leaves the house he is plunged into a freezing cold stew of compost. And, he's probably lonely. Pigs are social animals, and the only interaction he gets in there is the chickens trying to steal his food.

Not that letting him out did much good on that score. Yes, we let the pig out. We just felt too guilty. If we had two pigs, I wouldn't feel bad about letting them live in there together for their entire lives, but a lone pig? Nope. As soon as he got out, he started running around in circles and digging. AND bothering the other animals. Pigs are seriously obnoxious. Seriously. He ran under the ponies and tried to nip their bellies. He slammed into the goat's legs, nearly knocking them over. He spilled all the water in the bucket. He chased the chickens.

The goats mostly ignore him regally

but the ponies actively try to bite to kick him

Ivory tried to play with him, and when he nipped her on the ear, she tried to bite him back.

Ah well, soon enough this obnoxious pig will end up like the last obnoxious pig:

Except for a single roast, this is all that is left of the last pig: a big bag of fat scraps. I decided to try and render them into lard. I hope I'm doing it right: all I did is dump the frozen scraps into a large pot and put it on medium low heat. I figure sooner or later it will mostly melt, and I can skim off anything that isn't lard.

Also today I found three eggs, and one of them is clearly the first contribution of a new pullet. See how it is small and skinny, almost cylindrical? This is good news! For the first time since late November, I have a full dozen eggs in the fridge!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Too Many Roos, and Musings on Meat (WARNING - GRAPHIC PICS)

Although last year's chicks had a very poor survival rate (like maybe 25%) we still ended up with too many roosters. Now we have five, which is far too many for a flock of sixteen or eighteen hens. There are the original two, now about two and a half years old. I hear that older roosters are better at protecting the hens, so maybe we should keep these and get rid of the others. Plus, of course, these old roos wouldn't be very good to eat.

But there is one who hatched out quite early last spring and has become a real handsome guy; he's large, glossy, and gorgeous. Homero likes him and wants to keep him. The other two are just old enough to be recognizable as bona-fide roosters, and they are both scruffy and ugly, scrawny little crossbreeds - nothing much to look at. They are definitely going in the fry-pan, even though they are barely bigger than pigeons. That's the problem with raising one's own chickens. When it comes time to eat them, there's a lot of (very icky) work for very little return.

I have to admit, I have not yet been able to completely overcome the yuck factor when it comes to eating animals that I process myself. I have no idea why this should be: after all, meat from the grocery store is just as dead. A whole chicken from the store doesn't gross me out, but if I pluck it and gut it myself first, then it does. I don't like duck anyway, but I couldn't get over the yuck factor of the wild duck breasts that I carved out myself from the still-warm duck. The rabbit that Homero skinned and processed. Even the goats - although I wasn't around for the actual slaughter, I did see the big kettle full of body parts and watch the men doing the last bit of disjointing and skinning.

That part of it doesn't bother me - I didn't feel nauseated while the butchering was going on - in fact I found it interesting and wanted to see all the different organs. Only the next day, when I tried to eat some of the meat - which at that point looked, smelled and tasted great! - did I feel faintly sick.

This bothers me, and I really hope I get over it. I know intellectually that the meat I buy from the store is actually much more disgusting. If I saw the processes that led to it being there - not just the dangerous slaughterhouse, but the factory farm, the CAFO and the battery cages, I would be horrified. Presumably I wouldn't want to eat it.

The meat I raise here on the farm is, objectively speaking, much better. I know my animals are healthy. I know exactly what kind of lives they have led and what they have eaten, and my conscience is clear on all accounts. I treat my animals well and this place is adequate to their needs. So why do I still have this visceral reaction?

Is it just a natural reaction to death, blood and guts? Maybe I shouldn't be eating meat at all. I remember way back when I first was contemplating eating my own animals I said (very bravely, and very prematurely) that if couldn't enjoy meat from my own animals, meat that I was wholly responsible for, well then, I just shouldn't eat meat at all. I still feel that way - no, more accurate to say, I still THINK that way.

But I FEEL a little sick when I kill a chicken, and I only feel hungry when I order chicken at a restaurant. I'm going to have to try harder. I'm going to have to just try and get through it and get over it. I'm going to have to kill a bunch of roosters.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Eureka! Eggs!

Found eight eggs up in the hayloft. I always check up there, but it's kind of dark. The hens snuggle down between bales of hay and make nests. They are impossible to find until I move a bale.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 To-Do List

A few days ago, I was walking the property and making a mental to-do list. I like to to do this about every month - just walk the perimeter, checking out the fences; go up and down the pastures looking at weeds and rocks; scope out the state of the orchard and the compost pile and the outbuildings. Usually I take the camera and take a few photos of what's going on here and there and everywhere.

Looking at my photos, I see I didn't take any useful pictures that would help remind me of what needs to get done in 2010, so I will rely on my memory, impaired though it is by several glasses of New Year's Eve champagne. I did however, take this lovely picture of Poppy, still nursing although she is clearly several inches taller than her mama. Horsey people, spare me: I already know I should have separated them long ago.

In fact, I may just make that my first resolution: Get serious about training Poppy to walk on a lead, wear a blanket, let me pick out her feet, and generally not be spooky. The farrier suggested I start her on long-leads, as she might make a very nice cart pony someday. She is an adorable pony, very sweet and affectionate, but all ponies need to be trained and the more I handle her the better. Let's make a concrete goal of thrice weekly training sessions, at least a half hour each.

Next: plan a garden. Yes: plan! That means draw out on paper how many square feet, what I am going to plant when and where, buy the seeds and get starts going by the first of February in the sunroom, and generally get my ass in gear. The vegetable garden in MY responsibility, not Homero's. If I need him to do some of the heavy lifting, like building beds or shoveling compost, fine, ask him... but the kitchen garden is the kitchen witch's arena, and I am she.

Next: Plant four to six new fruit trees and a hedge of hazelnuts. Of the original twelve fruit trees we planted, only seven are alive. Damn goats. There is only one apple left and it is pretty sickly. Considering that I own a press and cider is a long-term goal, I think I should plant four apple trees. I have three pear trees and two cherries, but only one plum. I'm going to say, four apples, two cherries and another plum. Plus three to six more hazelnut bushes. I'll need Homero to run the billy-goat brush clearer, but I'm willing to do the shovel-work myself.

And to protect the orchard, we need more fences. I'd be satisfied if we just do the minimum necessary to protect the fruit trees and the garden, but I'd really like to finish fencing in the whole property. Then I could just turn out the goats and the ponies to graze and browse and not have to be a full-time shepherdess. Also my damn fool dog Lancelot would stop bothering the neighbors and chasing cars. But fences are expensive and they are not something I can do myself, so I think it likely I'll have to settle for the minimum.

I think that's as much infrastructure as I can commit to. I'd like to install the woodstove. I'd like to get the rainwater catchment system running smoothly - I have 1,250 gallons worth of storage available and it seems a waste not to use it. But once again, not something I can do by myself, so I can't make any firm plans.

Areas where I can plan firmly include food storage: this is the year I'd like to complete my goal of having a full year's worth of food on hand and of preserving a goodly portion of that food myself. We have a new piglet who will be ready to butcher in April or thereabouts, and now we know a very fine butcher (Crecencio) who is willing to do the job for us, so I guess one of my resolutions is to preserve that pig. I bought an industrial meat grinder, and by God I intend to use it. Ditto for this next year's goat kids.

Cheese. Last year I learned to make fine hard cheese, but I didn't cure it or store it. This year I will. With three milking does I ought to be able to make a two-pound wheel of cheese every week and still have plenty of milk for daily use and for yogurt and cajeta. Out in the shed we have a half-size fridge; I'm going to ask Homero if he can modify it to be a cheese cave: 50 degrees F.

Okay the champagne is getting to me. I think I'm done for the evening. I may think of more resolutions, but if I get most of these ones done I'll be doing pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. Happy 2010 to all of you and may all your resolutions come true!