"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Volkswagen Full of Goats

Eight baby goats in a very messy Eurovan

Today I brought all the baby goats to a local, very experienced goat farmer (Goat Lady) to have them disbudded. My husband has been pressuring me to learn to do it myself, saying that if I really want to raise goats I need to be familiar with all the processes - and although the whole idea gives me the willies, I agree with him. Of course, he's just using that argument to manipulate me; really he's just cheap.

In any case, I have seen the process close up before, but only at the vet's, where the babies are given a nerve block and then gas to render them unconscious for the half-minute it takes to burn their little heads with a red-hot iron. Goat-Lady does it by sticking the babies into a specially constructed box with just their heads sticking out and no fancy anaesthesia. They yell and scream and struggle and just about pass out from the exertion and the pain. As soon as you take them out of the box, they shake it off and within fifteen minutes, they seem totally normal. Goat-Lady does spray the burned spots with an antiseptic that has lidocaine in it, which I'm sure helps somewhat.

The vet charges about $50 per goat; Goat Lady charges whatever you can pay. I offered her $10/goat and she said that would be fine. And for the hour or so I was there, I got to pump her for goat-wisdom on all sorts of topics ranging from deep-litter bedding systems to how to handle various birthing malpresentations. We talked about mastitis and we talked about bottle feeding. And all the while, she was casually applying a red hot iron to the babies heads, pausing in her conversation to count off the seconds (about twenty-five per side).

It almost seemed normal. I left thinking, "gee, I could probably do that." I mean, sheesh, if I can handle KILLING them and EATING them.....

For the farm record: all babies were given CD&T vaccines as soon as we got them home. Iris is on day 2 of worming treatment with Safeguard and her diarrhea has progressed from foul thin brown liquid the consistency of soup to slightly less foul thick green liquid the consistency of oatmeal. I guess that's progress, right?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Things I Didn't Know About Worms

I must have misheard the lady on the phone yesterday who called to give me the results of Iris' fecals. I thought she said "nine" stomach worms and 1 coccidia, which would be pretty darn clean results. Actually she said "79" stomach worms and 1 coccidia.

Seventy-nine is a pretty high number, although not spectacularly high. The symptoms she is showing are generally worse than would be expected with that number, but it makes sense that she would be sicker than your average goat because she has recently been through the tremendous stress of carrying triplets to term, a rough delivery, and trying to instantly produce enough milk for three very hungry, rapidly growing babies. That's an awful lot of hard work. Doubt I could do it without getting sick, either!

But the worrying thing is that Iris was wormed - twice - recently. She was wormed right before breeding, and she was wormed after delivery. Both times with Ivermectin. That means that the worms she has have developed resistance to Ivermectin and now we need to switch wormers and hope they don't develop multi-drug resistance.

I knew resistant parasites are a problem. They are a major problem in goats. What I didn't know, and the vet patiently explained to me, is that resistance develops inside individual animals, not necessarily in all the animals on a given farm. He said that in any given herd, twenty percent of the animals, give or take, will be unusually susceptible, just because of their genetic makeup or other unknown factors. These twenty percenters are responsible for shedding over eighty percent of the parasite eggs. Therefore, rather than treating all the goats with the second-line wormer (which would only serve to help the worms inside them develop resistance too), we should only treat the problem animal. Iris has always been rather delicate of constitution. She is always the first to develop symptoms and the last to have her symptoms resolve. My guess is she's just one of those twenty percenter animals.

So for now, the treatment plan is:

- worm with Safeguard three days running
- bring new fecals in in two weeks
- supplement local hay with high quality alfalfa and make sure she has enough grain.

If the fecals show improvement in two weeks, but her symptoms do not, then we could be dealing with Johnne's disease, which is a whole different situation, and one I don't want to think about right now.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Iris Update

The vet wants to see Iris. Her fecals were actually pretty clean, so we don't know what's causing these symptoms. Now the question becomes - pay the exorbitant farm-visit rate, or put a goat with explosive diarrhea in my van?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

To-Do List: 3/10

In order of immediacy, more or less:

- Take a sample of Iris the goat's diarrhea in to the vet for microscopic analysis. She's had serious scours for four or five days now, and she's only eight days out from giving birth to triplets. This is the goat who had a hard time keeping the weight on while she was pregnant - I fed her and fed her but by the end of her pregnancy she was skin and bones nonetheless. She is a star milker - she produces well over a gallon of milk a day and in order to do that, she needs to be in prime condition. If she's losing tons of nutrients and losing hydration due to chronic diarrhea, well, that's just not a sustainable situation. I could concievably lose four goats - Iris and all three triplets. None of the other goats have scours, so I don't know what's going on.

- Fix the washing machine. It's broke again. I swear, I will never again buy a high tech, fancy-schmancy appliance if I can help it. I'm looking for appliances from the seventies - or better yet, the fifties - back when they made things to last. Go ask your grandma how long she's had her blender. If it's less than forty years I'll eat my hat. Even I, who am still under forty years old, had the same washer, dryer, and refrigerator for all fifteen years I lived in my old house in the city. I move up here, decide to buy all new appliances, and they've all broken down - some of them twice. Planned obsolescence. Please, industrial engineers, give it at least five years on a big appliance like a washing machine before it goes kaput. Less than that, and you just erode product loyalty.

- Fences. Oh my god, fences. Fencing is neverending. Never. Ending. The main culprit now is Poppy pony - she has completely mashed down the field fencing between her paddock and the main paddock. The fence is now about two feet high. I don't even know if it's salvageable, or if we just need to cut it out and replace with new fencing. And if we replace it, with what? What I would theoretically like is fences like my sister and brother-in-law have: split rail wooden fences reinforced with field fencing so it works for both horses and goats. However, they have a paddock about fifty by fifty feet: I have over two thousand linear feet of fencing. Homero could do it - in ten years. We could hire it done - for twenty grand. Solution eludes me right now.

- Buy more hay. The grass is growing now, but I don't want my animals to eat it to a nub before it really gets started. One more pick-up load of hay - say, twenty five bales. That ought to bring us into prime grass season. The last hay we bought was total crap. I sent Homero to pick it up, and he knows nothing about how to evaluate hay. It's not his fault. But if I had gone myself, I wouldn't have bought it. It's mostly timothy, stemmy, dry, and not a hint of green in it. We are basically using it for bedding. The hay we bought before that was fabulous hay - alfalfa and orchard grass mix, third cutting, green as grass. The goats tore into it like it was chocolate laced with crack cocaine. I want more of that.

- Garden work. Homero plowed up a gigantic garden and has basically ignored it ever since (a big "I told you so" is choking me right now. Gakh - Hack - Haaawwk- ok I'm fine now). Now we have a thousand square feet of garden space which is rapidly growing grass, clover, burdock, thistles, and blackberries. I have hand-cultivated and planted a few rows here and there - spinach and swiss chard, forty row feet of potatoes, some italian parsley - but the great majority of it is going to waste unless it is either planted or mulched, fast.

Oh there's most likely a lot more, but just writing this much has worn me out.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Out with the Old, In With the New (Animals)

Out with the old: The pig is scheduled for slaughter on tuesday. We're going with Keizer meats again. We had actually decided to have our acquaintance Crecencio do it - he's the guy who butchered the goats last fall and he said he knows how to do pigs too - since we are kind of broke and Crecencio would work for meat. I also discovered a place that would cure the hams and bacon for me, so I was pretty happy about that. However, Crecencio isn't answering our phone calls.

Keizer meats has always provided excellent service and a superior product, so it's fine. It's just an outlay we weren't expecting right now. Homero, as usual, argued that the pig wasn't ready yet, but I totally disagree. By the tape measure method, he weighs about 225 pounds. According to the book and also everyone I know who raises pigs, there's no point in letting them get a whole lot bigger because they just start laying on the lard. Unless you really want lots of lard, and old-fashioned fatty meat, you should kill them at a weight between 200 and 250 pounds. I have a gallon of clean rendered lard in the fridge and I expect that to last me a long time. I don't need a whole lot more.

Plus, the pig has to be penned up now, lest he harm the baby goats, and his pen is so disgusting I just can't look at it anymore. He is waist deep in shitty mud day and night. I have to reach in there and get his water bucket every day and clean it with the hose, and it is NO FUN, let me tell you. We are going to let him out in the other pasture for the few days he has left, just to get clean, root around, and enjoy life a little before the end. He's a cute pig, actually. As far as pigs go. But we have been flat out of pork for a month now, and I absolutely refuse to buy supermarket pork products. I am craving some bacon.

In with the new: The baby goatlings are doing just fine, all eight of them. Django's kids, being the oldest, are really starting to leap and run and climb and generally behave like active, healthy little kids. They are definitely the lords of the barnyard at the moment. Iris' kids are not far behind. They jump and run, but stay closer to the barn and look for their mama after just a few minutes. Flopsy's twins are still little bitty babies - they cuddle up and stay in their "nest" while mama goes out to graze and just wait for her to return. The older babies try to play with them, but they haven't quite got the idea yet.

I am bringing all four does and the spotty buckling to the vet to be disbudded. It's expensive to have the vet do it ($30 per head), but it's worth it, in my opinion. Last year I had a goat farmer who came highly recommended do it - she only charged $10 per kid - and all of those kids are growing scurs. Scurs are any growth from areas of the horn bud that didn't get totally destroyed. Scurs can be a minor cosmetic nuisance, or they can be a major headache (no pun intended). Storm Cloud has minor scurs that aren't a problem except for ruining his appearance, but Xana had major scurs that curled back into her skull and needed to be removed once a year or so. None of the goats I've had disbudded at the vet's have scurs, and if they DO start growing scurs, the vet will fix them for no extra charge. Not to mention, the vet uses anaesthesia. I don't consider that absolutely essential, but it sure is nicer. Disbudding involves a red hot iron. 'Nuff said.

My sister is buying the spotty buckling. He really is the prize of the bunch. What a gorgeous boy! The four does I hope to sell as milk goats, which is why I'm having them disbudded. You pretty much can't sell a goat with horns. Not around here, anyway. And the other three boys are meat, so I'm not bothering to disbud them. I can castrate them myself (with a band) and that's all they need.

I love this time of year. I love the baby goats! Baby goats, to tell the truth, are pretty much the whole reason I moved up here and started a farm. I just adore them!

Ivory guards the herd

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Scary, Sad, and Happy

At about ten a.m. today, I went out to the barn and saw that Flopsy was in labor. She had a long, thick string of goo hanging down to her hocks, which means birth is immanent. I shoved her in the mama barn, and Rowan, Homero and I sat down to wait. It was soon clear she was in hard labor, and also soon clear that something was wrong. She was straining hard, laying down and pushing, but nothing much was happening.

For those of you who have never seen a baby goat born, they are encased in a thick strong membrane full of amniotic fluid (hereinafter called "goo"). This bag presents first at the vaginal opening as a "bubble." Since the membrane is transparent, you can see the presenting part through the membrane. It should be front hooves with the nose on top - the most common presentation - or hind hooves, bottoms up.

In Flopsy's case, I could see the bubble, but there were definitely not hooves inside. Every time she changed position, the bubble would slip back inside. This is not normal. After a particularly strong contraction, the bubble burst and spilled all it's goo, but still no baby or any part of one. In a very few minutes, while I was dithering about whether or not to go in, another bubble appeared, and also burst, with no sign of a baby.

Very bad. Very very bad. Now I knew she had twins, and that neither one of them was in a position to be born. I had to go in. I lubed up and slipped inside, and all I could feel was a round, hard thing that had to be the head. But no feet. No feet at all. And even the head felt wrong - I couldn't feel the nose. It seemed to be a big, bald ball. I didn't like this at all.

Whatever part of a baby I was feeling, it was jammed in tight. There was no room at all for it to change position. All I could do was try to push the head back in, back into the uterus and out of the vaginal canal, so there would be room to maneuver and look for the feet. But that head wouldn't budge. It was stuck.

At this point, I knew I had a situation beyond my ability to handle. The only good thing was that Flopsy still seemed strong - she was grunting during contractions, but in between, she'd just nibble a little hay and act like nothing was going on. I called the vet and said "I have an emergency - my hand is inside the goat and I can't feel any feet."

The vet told me the only thing to do was bring her in. I said "you can't come out?" He said, "I could, but if I had to do an emergency C-section, we'd have to bring her in anyway."

Thank God Homero was home! He helped me manhandle Flopsy into the van and then stayed behind to pick up the kids at school while I raced to the vet, Rowan beside me in the front seat and Flopsy on an old blanket in the back.

All the way there - a 30 minute drive - she was pushing and for the first time, beginning to sound like she was in real distress. At a red light, I lifted her tail and took a look. Oh my God - I saw an ear. One long, nubian ear hanging out. Now I knew we had one of the worst possible presentations - legs back and head bent back along the neck. The poor little thing was trying to come out side-of-the-head first. It's patently impossible.

Now totally freaked out, I gunned it for the vet's office. Peeling in, I shouted at Rowan "Go in and tell them I'm pulling around back! Tell them it looks bad!" The vet met me at the back door, which is the large animal bay, and quickly calmed me down by assuring me my goat wasn't going to die in the next couple of minutes. We got Flopsy inside and the vet took a look.

"An ear! You don't see that very often!" I held Flopsy's head while he scrubbed up and slipped inside. He confirmed we had a bent-back head, and unfortunately, the only thing to do was use a certain amount of main force to maneuver the head out of the vaginal opening and then pull the kid, legs back and all.

The poor little girl was dead. The vet said it looked like she'd been dead for a a little while. Most likely, with the way her head was doubled back, the force of the contractions broke her neck. If she'd been alive, she could have helped by struggling and getting herself into a better position, but being dead she was simply a cork blocking up the works and preventing her sisters from being born.

Yes - sisters. Flopsy had triplet doelings. The other two girls were born quickly and easily after their sister was removed, and were both big, strong, and vigorous. They wasted no time standing up and finding the teats. They are both exceedingly cute, especially one little girl with a wide white band all around her belly and a plethora of spots.

I know this is a terrible thing to say, but I'm actually glad Flopsy doesn't have three live kids, because she's not a very good milker and I doubt she could nurse three without trouble. Now I have gorgeous twin does - probably very easy to sell. I wish I could keep the little spotty girl.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

School Visit to Windy Hill Homestead

Yesterday, Rowan's school came to visit. She goes to Wellspring, an extremely small private school, and so the visit only involved six people. And three of them were teachers.

A main theme at Wellspring this year is food production, and it spans several classes. In one class they are reading The Omnivore's Dilemma and Eating Animals. In science they are discussing environmental impacts of agribusiness. In my class we are studying Cesar Chavez, the Farmworker's movement and the interface of Mexican immigration and American agriculture. Wellspring recently got a grant from the Farm to School program to hire a "farm to school co-ordinator," and that lady came along as well. I'm not totally sure what she does but it's about food.

The school decided to organize an outing to my farm to provide an illustration of alternative food production. I am not a commercial farm, I'm just a homesteader, and obviously this way of producing one's food isn't open to everyone. It wasn't supposed to be a proselytizing visit; just an educational example.

At first I was a little nervous - this is the absolute worst time of year for me to show off all my home-produced bounty. There just isn't any. I have about six quarts of various preserves left. The chest freezer is just about empty. The garden is bare dirt (actually, I've done quite a bit of planting, but it doesn't show. There's forty row-feet of potatoes in the picture below.).

The orchard looks like a bunch of tiny little sticks, and there are no bees in the hives. No goat's milk or cheese to try yet. But then I remembered - I have newborn baby goats! Nobody's going to care about immature fruit trees when they could be cuddling tiny baby goats!

And nobody did. The teenagers were all about petting cute animals - goats, ponies - and gawking at the enormous scary pig. The teachers were the only ones with questions - especially the farm-to-school lady. After the tour was over, she said "clearly, farming is a lot of work. Why do you do it?"

I was slightly taken aback, until I remembered she was most likely asking for the benefit of the kids. So I just told her the truth - when I moved up here, I was just motivated by the thought of my kids being able to enjoy animals and nature the way I did as a kid. I just wanted them to be able to cuddle cute baby goats and watch eggs hatching. But recently, as I've become more enlightened about the issues surrounding modern food production, I wanted to disassociate myself (insofar as possible) from the ethical and environmental tragedies involved. I want to provide my kids with nutritionally superior food. I want to feel good about the food I eat. It doesn't hurt that I've slashed the food budget in half. And - not to get into it too far - I am relatively pessimistic about the medium to long term future, and I want to make sure my kids know how to feed themselves.

"Those are good reasons," she said. The teenagers weren't listening. They were still cooing over the goats and teasing each other about the amount of animal poop on their shoes.

And I sold three dozen eggs. One to each teacher!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Another Set of Triplets, and Another First for Me

Iris in Labor

Iris had her babies today. Triplets, the same as Django, two bucks and a doe. One of them is the most adorable goat ever to be born on planet Earth.

When I went to bed last night, I thought odds were better than even that I'd find babies on the ground in the morning. Poor Iris was barely able to walk, between her shockingly gigantic belly and her shockingly gigantic udder. In the morning, there were no babies, but there was a string of goo, which means babies should be coming very soon. So I got her in the mama barn, raced the kids to school, called my sister, and returned as fast as I could. Sister came over with my niece, Selah, and we all sat down to wait.

Iris is a very relaxed goat. She's a big, healthy mama, and she's birthed twice before, all real big healthy babies. She's never needed help (neither have any of my other goats), and she's never made much of a big deal about giving birth. She just stands there chewing her cud until she decides to lie down and push, and it's all over in a few minutes.

So I was a little surprised when her contractions went on for two and half hours without progress. She was not in any distress, but she was stretching a lot, and she was doing a weird squatting thing I'd never seen any of my goats do before. We decided to call my sister's goat-mentor, Kim.

Kim told me straight away that Iris had a malpositioned kid and I'd have to go in and check it out. Feel the presenting part and tell her what it is, and she'd tell me if I should pull the kid or
call the vet. To tell the truth, I was a little reluctant, and not just because I didn't want to stick my hand in a goat-yoni. I thought we were being hasty. Iris wasn't worried yet, why should I be? I wouldn't want anyone to jostle me along like that.

But with my sister's encouragement, a pair of latex gloves, and a lot of canola oil, I went in. It wasn't difficult to figure out the problem, actually. The baby was hind-feet-first, not a problem in itself, but one of his hind legs was bent and only one little hoof was well positioned. Over the phone, Kim talked me through the process of gently exploring further in, following the leg back until I could find the other hoof and make sure I had both of them in my hand and they were actually hind feet (front feet with the head turned back would have been more problematic).

Once I was sure what I was holding, I could go ahead and pull, along with Iris' contractions. Little boy was born in less than a minute. He was kind of limp and I had to swing him around by the hind legs (which I was already holding, right?) and rub him vigorously with a towel, but then he sneezed and started to breathe.

Then Kim said "go back in and see if there's another." What? Now she'd get any others out on her own, surely? I stuck my hand in briefly, ascertained that there was indeed another kid in there, this time nose on front feet as usual, and retreated. Iris was nickering and licking her baby, and after a few minutes I hadn't seen any further contractions. I asked Kim how long we should wait to see if Iris birthed the next baby, and she said "Oh just go in and get him. You're already in there."

Well she had a point. I wasn't going to get any grosser at this point (actually I was wrong about that, but it's what I thought at the time). So I went back in and quickly delivered two more babies. All three of them are strong and vigorous, good-sized for triplets, and strong nursers. All baby goats are cute, of course, but one of Iris' babies is so amazingly adorable that I might just not be able to let go of him.

Yes, again, a buck. The cutest ones are always bucks. I don't know why. Murphy's law, I guess. Just like my brother was the only one to get the long eyelashes and curly hair. I'll have more to say about buck-selection in another post.

Oh one thing is clear: I spent $75 on a rented buck for no reason at all. Storm Cloud is the father of all six of these little goats. The dates make anything else impossible, but I'd know by the coloration even if the dates were inconclusive. Now I know he throws great color!

Since Iris had a rough birth this time, I'll keep her in the mama barn for a good week. Also I'm giving her penicillin (5cc IM QD x 5D) since I had to go in. She's a strong goat, and I'm sure she'll recover just fine, but I'm not taking any chances. She's really a prize animal, a terrific milker, a great mother, a beautiful girl, and a sweetheart. I'd be devastated if anything happened to Iris. When I bought her, Homero thought I paid way too much for her, but I don't think so at all. She's paid back her purchase price half a dozen times.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Back It Up!!

The other day, I made a poorly considered assertion in a comment on another blog ( Casaubon's Book): I said I produced about 50% of my family's food on this farm.

A reader followed my link and wrote to me, asking me to elaborate on how exactly I do that. Panicking, I backpedaled as fast as I could and admitted that I was including in that total food that I traded for, but that I considered that fair because I traded for it with products of this farm. I have other caveats: I'm only talking about the food we eat at home. Like many people, we eat out about once a week, and restaurant food is not included in my calculations. Also, I'm averaging across the entire year. In the winter, we buy more food. In the spring, summer, and fall, we buy a lot less food and eat more home produced food.

Then I spent a little time (not too much because I was busy with newborn triplet goatlings) thinking about that 50% figure. What did I actually mean by that?

There are plenty of ways to measure food consumption - volume, calories, dollars, etc. I really wasn't thinking of any of these ways in particular when I made the comment. Depending on how you measure it, my comment is either pretty close to the truth or a rank lie.

By volume, I'm a liar. If I open up my cupboards and look at what is taking up the most space, it isn't food I produced myself - at least, not this time of year. Right now, I just went and looked in my pantry and I saw:

25 pounds of white rice
10 pounds of brown rice
20 pounds of store bought potatoes
sack of onions, ditto
10 pounds of pasta, varied types
case of Annie's mac'n'cheese
5 pound bag of quinoa
5 pound sack of bulgar wheat
2 pounds steel cut oats
about a half-gallon each of dried lentils, split peas, black beans, garbanzo beans, and pinto beans
case of canned tomato products
twelve cans of tuna
ten cans beans, various types
big jar of olives
big jar of pepperocini
lots of spices and numerous tins of this and that too varied to mention. Stuff like rolled anchovy filets and capers and baby clams.

In the fridge, I find:
two pound loaf of Tillamook cheddar
ditto pepper jack
fresh veggies - carrots, chard, cabbage, chiles, herbs, etc
condiments of all stripes

None of the above was produced here. The items in the cupboard and fridge that were produced here include:

several pints of rhubarb sauce
3 quarts pickled beets
3 quarts pickled beans
2 pints homemade ketchup
3 quarts tomato sauce
2 pints raspberry jam
(there was a lot more last fall - this is the lean time of year as far as home preserves go. We've been eating it all winter.)

Then there are items that I'm not sure how to categorize: I bought the raw materials but then produced them here - i.e., a gallon of kim chee. I assume that the person who asked the question would consider this category "not" produced here, and I can't really argue the point, but submit the consideration that the ingredients for the kim chee cost me about $2.50, whereas that same volume of finished kim chee would have cost me about $20.00. So later on, when I measure by dollars, I expect this to be considered.

Clearly, by volume, I am a big fat liar.

However, by other measures, I am telling the stellar truth. Let's talk cash. Not counting restaurants, what are the big ticket items in most people's grocery carts? Meat and other animal products, right? Processed foods - but we eat very little of those. The boxed mac'n'cheese and the occasional frozen pizza are about the extant of it.

With the exception of seafood (which is an occasional treat), I buy almost no animal products at all - except in the dead of winter. In the past twelve months, I have bought three or four dozen eggs, three or four gallons of milk, and perhaps six chickens. I do buy butter. I do buy cheese in my off-season. However, home produced animal products vastly dwarf store bought ones, averaged year-round.

Here's what we produce ourselves in a typical year:

-200 pounds of pork products, including ham, bacon, and lard
-60 dozen eggs
-270 gallons goat's milk, of which perhaps 100 gallons is processed into
- 75 pounds cheese
- 25 gallons yogurt
- four or five chickens (we don't really like tough, free range birds, so we only eat excess roosters)
- 60 to 120 pounds of chevon (young goat meat - depends on how many kids were born in a given year and how many we decide to keep or sell)
-Garden produce - not, by any means, a lot, but enough for salads and herbs and a few meals here and there.

The bulk of our vegetable food in the spring, summer, and fall is procured through trade. I trade eggs and goat cheese all summer long at the farmer's market. I don't deny I have some extremely generous trade partners. Feel free to click on "trade" on the sidebar and you will find all kinds of heavily-weighted-in-my-favor trades I've finagled. Any given week, I might give a trade partner two or three dozen eggs and a half-pound of goat cheese, and get back enough produce to feed the family all week and some to freeze, can, or dehydrate besides.

Also, I realize now that I was counting in my head foods that we paid for, but gathered ourselves - in season, we ALWAYS hit the U-pick farms for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc. This is an extremely economical way to get a lot of food fast. I might pack a picnic lunch, bring the wind-up radio, and make a family outing out of picking enough blueberries to last us through the winter. Maybe it costs $30.

Then there are wild foods. On my own property, I have an unlimited supply of blackberries. Seriously - unlimited. Or, limited only by the amount of blood I'm willing to shed. Also we have a pretty large amount of wild mushrooms in the fall. Not enough to dry, but enough for several seasonal pots of mushroom soup. There's chamomile, watercress, wild strawberries, and all kinds of herbs.

There's children clamoring for my attention. I'll finish this post tomorrow.

First Babies of the Year!

Triplets! Django really surprised us! I didn't think she was that big, nor that close to giving birth. It's notoriously hard to predict exactly when a goat will give birth (usually in the worst possible weather and when you have all kinds of stuff going on) but there are some clues and Django wasn't really exhibiting any of them.

In the day or so before going into labor, moms develop a super tight udder, almost shiny and stretched looking - hers was getting there, but not what I would have thought was really ready. They "lose their ligaments," which refers to the tendons near the base of the tail, which are usually easily felt. Right before birth, they get super soft and squishy. I could still feel Django's yesterday afternoon. Behavioral signs are subtle - some mamas act out a lot and others barely seem to notice anything is happening.

Homero found the babies at about 10 a.m. when he went out to feed everybody. I wasn't home, but I hurried back as soon as I could. I had Homero put all of them in the mama barn and give Django food and water. By the time I got there, a half hour later, all three babies were up and had nursed without help.

Django is fine, eating and drinking and nickering at the babies and licking them like she is supposed to. She has passed the afterbirths (easy disposal of afterbirths: throw them to the pig) and everything looks just hunky-dory!

Two bucks and a doe.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I'm a "best blog!"


(3 ACRE HOMESTEAD: AND THE WINNERS ARE-) A big thank you to Barbara at the 3 acre homestead (link above) for awarding me a best blog award. It's truly delightful to hear that somebody is enjoying my random ramblings.

In keeping with the spirit of the thing, I'd like to pay it forward to some of my favorite sites. If you are into it, feel free to copy and paste the the sticker onto your blog (and link back to me!!). The blogs are in alphabetical order, not order of preference. Every one of them is worth regular reading.

Annie's Kitchen Garden

Becoming a Good Human


Cheriepicked - Ethical Reci...

Eat Close To Home

fast grow the weeds


Little Blog In The Big Woods


Milkweed Diaries

My Freezer is Full

Olive and Popeye, the neig...

Q's Corner


The Well Run Dry

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Alchemy of Cabbage (A Little Knowledge Can Be a Good Thing)

we bought some kim-chee in a jar

wrapped it up and threw it in the car
but before we got too far

Oh God, what's that smell?
Have we driven into hell?
I don't think this bodes too well....

We got a kim chee situation!
it's lacto-fermentation!
stinking up the nation!
cancel the vacation!

- rock song made up by my daughter Rowan. Based on real-life events, as they say.

Lyrics notwithstanding, I actually love kim chee. It's not something I thought I would ever make at home, but all the books I've been reading about food preservation talk about lacto-fermentation (think sauerkraut and kosher pickles) as an indispensable technique. There is really a lot that is very cool about fermentation. It's the only common preservation method that actually increases foods vitamin content. It's basic kitchen-alchemy. Along with brewing, wine making, sourdough leavening, and the milk-preservation arts (which encompass everything from yogurt to kefir to Parmesano-Reggiano), lacto-fermentation feels like witchery.

In the best sense of course - women's magic, true old fashioned feminine wisdom. Passed down from grandmother to granddaughter (or re-learned when the generational chain gets interrupted, as it has for most of us). Not-so-secret knowledge of how to make good food that keeps the family alive and healthy. Beyond food magic, of course there are the traditional feminine mysteries of midwifery, herbal lore, sewing and the fiber arts. Horticulture. Storytelling, history-remembering, child rearing, nursing the sick and smoothing the way for death. All essential, all capable of opening up into a lifetime of study and practice.

I'm a generalist kind of person - I'll never be a specialist of any kind. I love to dabble and explore. I adore beginnings, and find it delightfully easy and fascinating to achieve a certain basic level of competence in just about anything - but I hate persevering after it starts to get hard. I'd so much rather move on to the next thing.

This has always been interpreted to me as a character flaw. In our culture, enamored of specialists, I guess it might be. Obviously, we need specialists! Specialists of all sorts. But I think we also need generalists. We need people who have a wide knowledge base, who know a little something about almost everything. People who can make up a story AND cook a balanced meal AND deliver a goat kid AND kill a chicken AND pick out a tune on the piano AND knit a pair of socks AND make a decent half-sour pickle. I'm an utter generalist, but even I have an area of expertise, and it's in the kitchen.

I love being a kitchen witch. I love developing a store of useful, practical knowledge and elaborating it into art. I also, of course, like to eat. I like the feeling of knowing my family can depend on me to put food on the table - healthy, nutritionally balanced, delicious food - day after day. I really really like the process of learning about all the food related arts I've been learning about these last few years. I like being a competent housewife, goddammit.

In the old days, the knowledge of preservation often was quite literally the line between life and death. But even without being quite so dramatic, imagine the difference between a long, northern-European winter with plenty of wine, beer, raised bread, pickles and cheese - or with only cold roots and rusks. I imagine people could make it through to spring on roots and rusks... but would they want to?

I know this is a big extrapolation from a gallon of kim chee, but I am very certain that MY house will be of the former variety in these long northern winters, not the latter.

And I'm proud of that.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Poppy, Nearly a Yearling

..... and still nursing every chance she gets. She looks so silly, she's twice the size of her mother. The farrier says I have to separate her, like, three months ago. He says it isn't good for her anymore.

Any horse people want to weigh in?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What Lies Beneath.....

... the dirt in our newly tilled garden beds....

Enough rotted wood to make me suspect an entire cabin was interred about fifty years ago....

Giant hunks of broken concrete..... Many of them bigger than my feet, as you can see... but also some which are huge, massive, enormous.... I hit this one with the shovel and scraped the dirt off the top, as far as I could... then managed to slide the shovel blade under it and using it as a lever started to lift it out of the ground.

And here it is, fully extracted. One broken nail later.

Big Pig, and Big Decision

See the pig. The pig is big. See the big pig.

The pig is big enough to kill. The pig is big enough to eat.

Homero would like to let the pig grow a little more. I don't know how much the pig weighs - he's about as big as the other two pigs were when we killed them - but I know how much the pig eats. The pig eats a lot. A bag of pig food costs about fifteen bucks and lasts two weeks, supplemented with household scraps. In two weeks, how much weight does a young pig gain?

That's the kind of thing I could probably look up.

And then, if I were further mathematically inclined, I could actually figure out the cost of each pound gained by the pig, and come to a perfect break-even point, a scientifically derived death-date for the pig.

That's not really my thing. I'm more of an estimator. Storey's guide to pigs says butcher weight is between 200 and 250 pounds. I think our pig is just about that weight. Time to kill the pig, stop spending money feeding the pig and let the pig start feeding us.

Oh did I mention, we ate the last scrap of pork from the chest freezer about a month ago? NO, of course that doesn't figure into my calculations. What do you think I am, a monster?

So the question is, not whether or when to kill the pig, but how. We have, for the first time, the opportunity to hire a local expert who will work for a share of meat (Hi Crecencio!). He butchered the goats last fall and did a damn fine job.

Upside: saving $250 we don't actually have at the moment.

Downside: losing a quarter or so of the meat (random guess - anyone out there know what percentage we should offer him? This is all new to us). Losing good quality ham and bacon, replaced by whatever I, with nil experience, can cure and smoke myself. Probably that means bacon, no ham. Everyone I've talked to who has tried it says that our climate here just flat out isn't conducive to ham unless you have a climate controlled room. I don't. But I do have a small smoker capable of smoking bacon.

What to do, what to do? While I mull it over, please enjoy this picture of the pig with his head stuck in a bucket.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Garden Update, March 11/2010

I'm not sure how well it shows in the photo, but Homero rototilled four long garden beds, separated by three grassy areas. The garden beds are connected by a perimeter, so in fact what we have is something like a large tilled square, interrupted by three intact oblongs to walk on. Each of the tilled beds is about thirty-five opr forty feet long and three or four feet wide. The connecting legs are about ten feet long and three or four feet wide. That makes - what - about 800 sqaure feet of garden space, a little short of what I estimated the other day.

Of copurse, most of this space still needs a lot of work. For those of you without in-ground gardens, rototilling is just the beginning. Then you have to get to work with a rake, to break up all the clumps and get rid of as many roots (grass roots, clover roots, burdock roots, blackberry roots) as you can. Then you have to make rows.

This is the far south-east corner of the garden, about one twentieth of the total area. I spent a good hour today with a rake making three short rows, pulling roots, and planting Swiss Chard. Each of these rows is about five feet long, so I have fifteen row-feet of rainbow chard planted.

I was multi-tasking today - raking while also herding goats and ponies. I feel pretty good about the day's work. If I can plant an equal amount of garden each week it will only take me until (wait while I break out the calculator) next June to get the whole garden planted (!!!)

Okay, I better step it up a little. Theoretically, this is Homero's garden, but what are you gonna do? I either plant it, or watch it go to hell.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Few Facts

In no particular order:

- Homero tilled up about 1,000 sq feet of garden space today.

- There is a whole lot of broken concrete and very many big rocks in that garden space. Also, there are two piles of broken concrete out in the back field, each of which is at least twelve feet high.

- Homero's shop needs some parking space right outside. We set aside a space approximately
30 x 40, but it was just a sea of mud and cars kept getting stuck. We hired a guy with an excavator to dig down to the substrate, but the cost of fill and surfacing is prohibitive. We paid for a driveway so at least now we can get cars into and out of the shop, but that 8 x 30 space cost us over a grand. At that rate, the rest of the area would cost about $5,000. Which, it hardly seems necessary to add, we don't have.

- I am way too goddamned fat.

- All the time that Homero spent rototilling, I spent picking up rocks and chunks of concrete and transporting them via my garden-cart to the site of the hole in the ground out in front of Homero's shop where he wants to make a parking space.

- I can shotput a big ass chunk of concrete pretty far.

- It would take approximately a bazillion cartloads of concrete and rocks to fill that hole in front of the shop.

- I'm pretty sure that the calories theoretically extractable from said 1,000 sf garden do not approach the calories theoretically expended in transporting aforementioned concrete and rocks, plus those expended in planting, weeding, harvesting, and processing produce from same.

- Did I mention I'm pretty goddamned fat? I have approximately a decade and a half of caloric surplus stored on my hips, belly, and thighs, so perhaps it isn't a freaking tragedy if I have to expend more calories than I reap in my garden.

- We don't own a machine capable of breaking down the giant piles of concrete in the back field into pieces that we could even theoretically transport.

- I don't even know what a machine like that is called. How can I rent one if I don't know what it is called?

- I have weak ankles. I am in here writing this post instead of outside picking up rocks because my ankle gave way without warning and I fell down hard and not only twisted my ankle but also scraped the heck out of my knee.

Put all these facts together however you see fit. If you can make them come together in any way that doesn't scream "Homero should divorce you and get a younger, fitter wife" I'd be thrilled to hear it.

Food Deja Vu

'Tis the season to be thinking about the garden. Actually, this year, 'tas been the season for some time already. Anyone who has been following along knows that I have quite a bit planted already, in my new-this-year all container garden.

I had been thinking that if I stuck to the right crops (leafy greens, tomatoes, cukes, zukes, and chiles) I could get a good harvest from my modest container garden and count on the trade network to provide me with things like corn, potatoes, beets, winter squash, and carrots.

I tend to think that it's better to put all my effort into tending a small garden and getting the most out of it, rather than expending the same amount of energy in a large garden and getting a large crop of weeds for my trouble. I have come to this conclusion after many semi-wasted years and much time spent lamenting over my poor harvests scattered thinly throughout giant plots. You are welcome to this hard won wisdom free of charge. So is my husband, but he doesn't want it.

My husband, new to gardening, is enthusiastic about putting in a great big garden. He wants to plant corn, potatoes, and onions - staples - and he wants to plant a lot of it. He borrowed a rototiller from my sister and her husband - discovered that it only goes in reverse, spent a few hours fixing it, and is now out tilling up a storm in the exact same place that he tilled up a storm in his last fit of enthusiasm, two years ago.

80% of that plot was never planted. We'll see how this one goes. I don't mean to be dismissive or sarcastic - I sincerely hope that Homero's garden does great, and I intend to help with every stage - in fact, I need to get out there right now and help chuck rocks and boards and other garbage out of the way of the tiller. I'll rake, I'll plant, I'll weed, and I'll hoe.

But still, I am betting that my tiny little container garden produces more food per square foot than his great big in-ground garden does.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Beehive Ho!

Homero and I worked together all morning to put together two beehives.

First we went over all the frames and boxes (again) and finished cleaning them up and picking the best frames to fill four boxes. Unfortunately, we found another mouse-nest and this time it was full of pink, squirmy little babies. Homero gagged and blanched, but he scooped them all into an old feed bag and threw it in the back of the truck with all the other trash destined for the dump. The mama mouse retreated deep into one of the hive boxes, so we took the whole thing outside and pulled the frames out one by one until the mouse made a break for it. Ivory was standing by, and the mouse didn't get far.

Then I took all the lids, bases, screens, and feeders and washed them with the high pressure nozzle on the hose and lined them up along the fence to dry in the sun (it's about 63 degrees and sunny - we were hot in the mama barn. Some of the frames have honey in them and it is melting and getting all over everything.) I had to take a stiff brush to some of them, but they mostly look pretty good now.

We needed some kind of table or base to set the hives on that would keep them up off the damp, cold ground and more or less keep weeds away from the entrances. We don't actually have any extra tables right now - as a matter of fact we don't even have a coffee table for the living room. But we do have an old desk that has been sitting in the backyard for the the last three years. Homero sawed the top off of it to make a level base and then reinforced it with 2x4's (two hives, when full, might collectively weigh more than four hundred pounds).

Next we had to decide on a site. According to my book (Beekeeping for Dummies), the ideal site has both sun and shade available, faces south or southeast, has water available nearby, is sheltered from livestock and other animals, and has protection from the wind. That's a tall order for us, but we found a site that faces southeast, is level and dry, and has water nearby. Maybe we can rig up some sort of wind protection - we'll probably have to, considering the strength of the wind around here.

I can't wait for my bees! I'm so excited!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Quiet Afternoon on the Homefront

It was a gorgeous afternoon, sunny and brisk, after a rather grey and foggy morning. This is what I call seasonal weather - clear and bright, but not really very warm. We often get a few weeks of beautiful sunshine in early spring, which raises everyone's hopes until they are inevitably dashed by another month of hard rain. This year has had more sun than usual - I hope that doesn't mean more rain than usual to come!

Since I am one of those odd people who seldom gets cold, I was out all afternoon in a t-shirt and felt perfectly comfortable as long as I wasn't in shadow, but I assume that for most folks it was jacket-weather. The ponies and the goats are enjoying the first growth of spring grass. Today I let the pig out, and he is also enjoying the grass. Pigs graze just like horses! They eat grass and clover - it just makes up a smaller percentage of their diet. They eat everything - grass, grain, meat. They are omnivores, just like people.

The new neighbor came by to inspect progress on his enormous house. I like the guy, even though he is building a giant monstrosity that will entirely block my view of Mount Baker. He's a very friendly fellow, and he has a nice family. We talked for a few minutes over the fence about where he intends to plant his fruit trees and the best kind of fencing for goats (10-foot chain link!).

I took a few pictures, while sitting in my sling-back chair and gently waving a stick in the direction of the goats if they got too close to the garden.

A sun-dog in the western sky

Newly planted herbs - two kinds of rosemary, english thyme, and grapefruit-mint.

Bush of unknown variety (something in the rhododendron family) in full, vibrant purple bloom. Note daffodils at bottom.

Polyculture. A pony, a pig, and a dairy-goat all peacefully coexisting near my kid's playset. I was thinking about this and decided to count: the species of domestic animals on the farm number seven: goat, pig, pony, chicken, dog, cat, and human. Earlier on, we would have had nine: alpacas and rabbits!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Day in the Life

7:00 - Wake up. Get kids up. Make coffee. Make oatmeal. Pack lunches.

7:15 - Get kids up again. Go feed animals

7:45 - Help kids find special clothes for "Olympics Day!" at school. Help Hope dress as an Olympic ice skater. Comfort Paloma who has to dress as a basketball player because an old Seattle Sonics t-shirt is the only other sport-related article of clothing we have in the house. Decide that it's fine if a basketball player wants to wear glittery eyeshadow.

7:50 - Get husband up.

8:00 - Out the door. Return to house to retrieve lunches. Return to car.

8:30 - drop off littlest kids at school

8:45 - drop off high school kid at school

9:15 - arrive at sister's house. Next cup of coffee. Sustained sigh of relief. Gossip and chit-chat.

10:00 - help out sister by administering an IM injection to her leased pony. Little nervous, but no big deal. Decide I really ought to vaccinate my own ponies, even though I highly doubt I could give them shots without inujury (to myself, not the ponies).

10:15 - 11:00 - further gossip and chit-chat, more coffee, and a slice of leftover pizza.

11:30 - retrieve basketball player from school.

12:00 - freak out at the state the house is in. Put on some loud rock and roll and do the dishes.

12:25 - make yogurt and start bread dough to rise. Get beef roast from chest freezer and try to figure out a way to defrost it in time for dinner tonight (no microwave). Wrap it tightly in several layers of plastic bags, put in a big bowl, and place bowl on a heater grate. Stack books on top. Hope dogs don't get it.

1:00 - pour a glass of wine and sit down at computer.

************** plans for afternoon *****************

1:30 - make lunch (probably mac'n'cheese).

2:00 - vaccinate pregnant goats with CD&T. If I have the time/strength, trim hooves. Probably not though, that sounds pretty ambitious right now.

3:00 - retrieve olympic skater from school.

4:00 - second glass of wine. Dinner prep. Hope meat has defrosted but not turned!

5:00 - retrieve teenager from bus station (on reflection, perhaps second glass of wine should be postponed until after this errand).

5:30 - feed animals. Look for eggs. Swear at lack of eggs.

6:00 - Help with homework. For the little kids, this means "help with homework." For the high schooler it means wheedle, nag, threaten, bargain, and scream.

7:00 - dinner. No idea at this point what that will be or if Homero will be here for it. He's in Seattle today helping a friend rebuild the transmission on a tow truck from the late jurassic age, so I'm guessing we'll be dining sans paterfamilias.

7:30-9:00 - dinner cleanup, wrestle children into pajamas and forcibly brush their teeth, read stories (after extended negotiation about who gets to pick how many stories each), and sing a song. Turn out light.

9:15 - hot bath, possibly with third glass of wine.

10:00 - tell teenager to get off the computer. Call husband if he isn't home yet and ask him where the hell he is, already.

10:30 - read scary book "Future Scenarios" about peak oil and climate change. Try to sleep. Think it was really dumb to read such a scary book before trying to sleep.

11:00 - sleep.