"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Buck Up (Doe Down)

Yesterday morning, I sent Rowan out to feed the animals because my knee had slipped out of joint as I tried to put on my boots. There was still several inches of snow and ice on the ground and I didn't fancy my chances of getting to the barn and back without doing myself an injury. Soon, I'm going to write a whole post about the sorry state of my body and how I manage (or don't manage) to run the farm while being partially to mostly crippled. But not today. Today I'm telling the story of the new baby goats.

Rowan came running back to the house and said "I think you're going to want to come anyway, mom, Polly had a baby!"

The little girls ran out ahead of me, and as I was struggling through the snow, Paloma ran back towards me, shouting "There's two, but one's dead." Right behind her came Hope: "No, ALMOST dead!"

When I finally made it out to the barn, I saw Polly with a beautiful, strong baby buckling at her side, standing up and nursing. He had obviously been born quite some time ago, as he was dry and fluffy. On the ground nearby was a spotted doling, flat out on her side and, to all appearances, dead.

I cursed myself. The evening before, at second feeding, I had seen and remarked to Homero that Polly's udder had filled up and the babies had dropped. This means birth will be soon; but I checked her tail ligaments and I could still feel them easily. There were no telltale hollows on either side of her tailbone. I thought it would be at least 24 hours and probably more. We left her in the main barn, with the other animals. Then she gave birth sometime during the night, or more likely in the early morning hours. By the time I got out there, the little doeling had been lying on the cold, wet straw for at least two hours and probably more.

With the girls' help, I grabbed Polly and the buckling and put them into the mama barn. Then I picked up the doeling and brought her into the house. She was breathing very slowly and had her head curled back on her shoulders in what I call "the arc of death." I never like to see a kid with its head thrown back like that; it is a very bad sign. Most likely the little thing was already doomed, but I did what I could.

I heated up the oven to 200 degrees and then popped her in, first, of course, turning the heat off and leaving the door cracked. I went back outside and got some colostrum (the first milk) from Polly - making sure the buckling was nursing well, which he was - and drizzled it into the doeling's mouth with a tiny syringe. Over the next few hours, I repeatedly warmed up the oven, fed the baby, and rubbed her and talked to her.

I didn't have a car, or I could have gone to the feed store for lactated ringer's solution and given her fluids subcutaneously. Also I could have picked up a garage tube and tried to feed her nasogastrically. I've never done that before and the chances are good I would have killed her by pumping fluid into her lungs instead of her stomach, but at that point there was nothing to lose.

For a little while, things seemed to be looking up. She cried several times, and struggled to lift her head. Her mouth warmed up inside, somewhat. But then she just died. One time took her out of the oven she was alive, and five minutes later she was dead.

My other two does are due to kid anytime now. Homero helped me divide the main barn into two stalls with a cattle panel, so that we have another separated area for a mother to kid in. I have plenty of dry straw. Sometime today I should go to the farm store and pick up a gavage tube and some LR solution, along with a larger syringe. Just to be prepared.

Every year I struggle with timing breeding for the right kidding time. First of all, it isn't always easy to find a buck so sometimes I have to take him when he's available, even if it isn't ideal by the calendar. Secondly, who knows what the weather's going to be like in March? Sometimes we get snow here in April. Thirdly, I like to have babies earlier in the spring rather than later for a variety of reasons - 1) it gives me a longer milking season before the weather turns cruddy again in the fall; and 2) it gives the kids longer to grow to eating or market weight by autumn. If I had babies in mid-May, none of them would reach a decent eating size before November.

But it's a trade off. If I had babies in mid-May, I could worry a lot less about finding chilled, dead kids on the ground. Mostly, I'm terribly pissed off at myself for not locking up Polly in the warm, dry mama-barn that evening. I won't make that mistake again soon.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Snowstorm 2014 (Photos)

The children have been complaining about the lack of snow this winter since, oh, mid-December. Boy are they are happy today! It's been snowing steadily - and at times, heavily - for about 24 hours now, and there are no signs that it plans to let up anytime soon. 

This is my favorite kind of snow. It isn't actually that cold out, so we can be outside for long stretches of time. There is a breeze, but not a gale, so the snow is falling more or less straight down and not into our eyes and down our necks. 

These pictures were taken this morning - a good six inches has fallen since then. The ponies were initially excited, running and kicking, but now they are taking refuge in the field shelter. The goats hate snow and won't leave the barn, not even when I open the feed storage. And the poor chickens are miserable, huddled in their nest boxes with the snow piling up around them - we never did finish fixing the roof. All I can do is keep giving them dry hay. 

The kids have been in and out of the house all day, tracking clods of snow in and drinking copious quantities of hot chocolate. Phil decided to take the mower deck off the kubota so he can drive it around in the snow and pull the children on out little plastic sled. He's working on that now, we'll see how it works. 

Glad we have the pickup now - without the 4x4 we wouldn't be going anywhere. Not that we have plans to go anywhere, but on the other hand we are running out of hot chocolate. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Signs of Spring

This picture was taken last week, at my local park by the river. Chunks of ice were floating merrily along downstream, but this bush - whatever it is - is in full bloom. The only thing I know of that usually blooms this early is forsythia, but that's yellow. Anybody have any ideas on this?

The alder catkins have been out for some two weeks now. Even if I couldn't see them for myself, I'd know they had bloomed by the number of people sneezing and wiping their eyes. Luckily, I am not allergic to alder or any other plant, as far as I know. I feel for those who suffer seasonal allergies; it must be like having a head cold all the time - something which I can especially sympathize with at the moment, as I have one.

Then, today as I was doing the evening feeding, I heard at least two separate frogs. The first frogs of the season! Without seeing them, of course I don't know exactly what kind of frogs they were, but a quick glance at the Washington state department of fish and wildlife page on frogs suggests they were almost certainly Pacific Tree Frogs. These tiny and adorable bright green frogs are also called Peepers and their song is one of the earliest signs of spring.

Another sign of spring - itchy garden hands. Two weeks ago, during a short stretch of sunny days that heated the greenhouse right up, I placed a sheet of pane glass over a claw foot bathtub full of dirt to make the annual Redneck Cold Frame. Then I waited for the dirt to warm up. Three days ago I went to check and it seemed pretty warm to me. I did not, however, apply the traditional English method of checking the soil temperature that I heard described by an English lady on the radio the other day. "Just take your knickers down and sit your bum down. If it feels nice and cozy, you're ready to plant!"

I used my elbow, and although it might be just a wee bit hardier than my nether region, nonetheless I decided to go for it. I planted arugula, which is what I usually plant first thing. The Idiot Gardener says I shouldn't plant arugula this time of year (he calls it "Rocket") but I don't have to listen to him, as he is an idiot. Just to cover my bets, I will plant mixed mustards in the other bathtub next week.

How about you? Any signs of spring yet where you are?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Function Over Form

the calf keeping me company

Recently, I made a fairly large purchase: a dozen cattle panels. I have a long term goal of eventually having all my pastures fenced and cross-fenced with cattle panels, instead of with the droopy, non-functional field fencing we put up when we first moved here. 

After MUCH research, some of it by trial and error (The Forever Fence (Is It a Myth?)) I have made the discovery that cattle panels are the most economical and effective form of fencing for goats. Goats like to stand up on field fencing, which is why most of ours is now mashed down to a height of about twenty-five inches. That is a height which obviously provides no impediment to a goat who wants to be on the other side. It would be marginally cheaper to replace the old mashed down field fencing with new field fencing, as opposed to using cattle panels, but it would be a LOT more work, and no guarantees that the new fencing would last very long, either.

Cattle panels cost about $37 apiece, here, with tax figured in, and are 16 feet long. The dozen I just bought cost  $440 and are just sufficient to re-fence one side of the smallest pasture. At this rate, I will achieve my goal approximately six months before I die of old age. Once, I did find a whole bunch of cattle panels for sale at $20 a pop on Craigslist, but that situation turned out to have a few drawbacks, as well (Cattle (Panel) Rustling).

Today is a beautiful day, sunny and somewhere above fifty degrees. This fact, combined with a general lack of aches and pains when I woke up this morning, convinced me to get out and put up the panels. Dragging a sixteen foot long, wobbly panel through a gate and across a muddy field is not an easy task, and after I had done it six times I went to go find Homero and ask him to help me with the other six. We laid them out along the old fence, and then I went back and tied them to the fence posts using - what else - baling twine.

Every winter, we go through forty-five or fifty bales of hay, and each one has two lines of twine holding it together. When I was a child, these were made of natural jute, but now, of course, like everything else in the world, they are plastic. And very durable. I have pulled these bright orange strings out of the compost pile after years, and they are still just about as strong as ever. They do pile up, too; my work today demanded some thirty-six of them, and I had no trouble at all finding that many here and there about the place.

It would make sense to go back with some wire cutter and actually remove the mashed down field fencing. I'm not sure what it's good for at this point, since it is almost impossible to restore it to it's original shape, but aesthetics alone dictates I eventually get rid of it. The fences are quite a sight as they are now - tangled up, bent, tied together with string, festooned with horse-hair and the occasional plastic bag.... pretty, no they are not. But after today's work, they are a little bit more functional.

Ivory enjoys the sun

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Cold Casulties

We have no snow on the ground - this picture is from a few years ago - but the past week has been intensely cold. Cold for this part of the country, of course; I know that for many of you, 15 or 20 degrees fahrenheit is downright balmy in February. Our position on a high, bare hill near the water makes things extra chilly around here. We get the unobstructed wind off the sound and with the windchill it feels even colder.

The animals have been suffering some. We haven't finished rebuilding the chicken coop and the poor birds are more exposed than I would like. The other day we left the door open so that they could seek better shelter inside the bigger barn with the rest of the animals. That maybe wasn't such a good idea: the next morning I found a chewed-up leg, just the leg, from one of the speckled hens. I don't know what kind of predator caught her, but it was something cold and hungry, that's for certain.

Rosie Pony's eyes, which were looking much better for a few weeks, are back to being all gummy and sticky, and I think the cold wind has a lot to do with it. I don't want to bathe her face in this weather. Even if I use hot water, she'll get chilled within minutes. Other than that issue, the ponies are the least affected by the cold of any of the animals. They are a little chubby and have warm, fluffy coats. The other day I wasn't wearing gloves, and halfway through chores my hands were so cold I slid them up under Poppy's mane to warm up. It was so warm and toasty! I didn't expect that a horse's mane was such an excellent insulator.

The goats, on the other hand, are not as cold hardy. The pregnant ladies are losing weight, even with extra grain and alfalfa pellets. They will be fine - this cold snap won't last much longer - but the little buckling, Haboob, is in serious trouble. There is something wrong with the little guy, and I don't know what. He never did grow very much, and everybody picks on him. Poppy, the biggest bully on the farm, even bit a chunk right out of his ear! I knew he was thin, but I didn't realize how thin until Homero came in a few days ago and told me he was worried. Haboob had fallen down.

The poor little guy's bones are practically sticking through his skin. I'm not sure what's wrong with him, but it's not just cold and hunger. He's a case of failure to thrive, and the cold might do him in. I put a jacket on him and closed him up in the warmest area I have with unlimited food and water for a few days. I also wormed him. He seems better off for now, but I worry about him. He's never going to be robust.

Meanwhile, I'm carrying water in buckets and feeding everybody extra hay. Inside the house, we are keeping warm with hot soup and wool sweaters, because we are getting pretty low on propane and need to conserve. I set the thermostat at 62 during the day, but it never feels that warm! Why is it that 62 degrees on a sunny day in April feels like heaven, but 62 degrees inside my house on a cold day in February feels freezing? The only ways to keep warm are 1) to take a hot bath, or 2) to go outside for a while and then come back in.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Imbolc - Repost

Welcome February 2nd, a day of many names in many traditions!

In what is probably the very oldest and most universal tradition of all - the solar calendar - February 2nd is one of the cross-quarter days, meaning a day that is exactly halfway between a solstice and an equinox. Believe it or not, ancient astronomers knew the dates of the solticses and equinoxes more than six thousand years ago. Today is halfway between the winter soltice and the spring equinox, and in the Northern hemisphere used to be marked as the first day of Spring. Indeed, only a few days ago, I noticed that the pussy willows were grey. One of my neighbors has a large pussy-willow, and I had to stop and ask her if I might take a few sprigs for my altar. I have them in water, and I'm hoping they will root and I can plant them on my property. It should work - willows are notoriously easy.

Other unmistakable signs of early spring I have noticed are robins (I saw a whole field covered in them the other day, driving home)...

witch-hazel in bloom at my sister's house...

...and the plaintive cry of the killdeer, looking for a nesting site. Killdeer are handsome shore birds who breed in sandy or gravelly uplands within a few miles of the beach - which perfectly describes my property. Their piercing cries in the evening and their swift, low, straight flights across the twilit ground are hallmarks of February and sure signs of the coming nesting season.

In the Celtic, or Pre-Christian European tradition, the first cross-quarter of the year was known as Imbolc, the beginning of the season of "emerging." It marked the time that the first sprouts began to emerge from seeds and bulbs, and especially the time that sheep and goats begin to drop their lambs and kids and to produce milk. It is the time that the world begins to emerge from the long sleep of winter. It is the season of waking. In modern celtic tradition Imbolc is observed with white candles on the altar to celebrate the return of the light to the world.

It is fitting, therefore, that when Ireland became Catholic, February second was commemorated as St Brigid's day. Brigid of Kildare was a real person, a contemporary of St Patrick, but the woman was named for an old Celtic Goddess, Brigid. Brigid the Goddess has always been associated with fertility, and more specifically with lactation and the fruits of the breast. In olden days she was the maiden, the young feminine divine, the nubile virgin ready to be made fruitful by the divine male. Her name, in fact, is the derivation of our word "bride."

In more modern Irish Catholic tradition, St. Brigid is the protectress of dairymaids, of cattle and kids, and the one who blesses the making of butter and cheese. Pregnant women and dairy farmers pray to her to this day, and many people believe that "Brigid" is one of the oldest, original names of the Divine Mother and venerate her as the Creatrix. She wears the youngest of the triple faces of the Great Goddess.

February 2nd is still a sacred day in the Roman Catholic church calendar, known as Candlemas. Indeed I was rather surprised when I asked my Lutheran pastor about Candlemas and learned that she knew nothing about it, at least by that name. Today marks the day that Jesus was presented in the temple, the day that Mary's period of ritual uncleanness after giving birth was over (forty days) and she was permitted and required to present her firstborn son to the priesthood. Since I am a very fledgling Christian I cannot provide gospel verses, but I bet Christians among you can find them. The event of Jesus' presentation to the world - his Christening, if you will - is very appropriate to the old theme of the holiday, the theme of beginnings, of emergence. Christ emerged from his mother's womb and was born to the world of men on this day.

Of course it is inconceivable that such an ancient and deeply rooted holy day as a cross-quarter would be ignored by the Catholic church; no doubt it was consciously appropriated. That doesn't matter to me at all. I am perfectly happy to celebrate Imbolc, Brigid, and the Newborn Babe all at once. I am delighted to have pussy willows and white candles on my alter, along with a few of the first eggs of spring and soon, the first crocuses and perhaps soon, a small vial of the first milk. In a month or so, I will have the cross of the risen Christ.

Right now, my favorite goat, Iris, is within days of giving birth. I see no conflict between the rites of Spring on my farm and the sacred rituals of the Chruch calendar. It may seem strange to others, but it is not strange to me that Iris reminds me of Mary, heavy with child or newly delivered. Mary was, as I am - as Iris is - a female animal, channeling life through her body, guiding a spirit into flesh. We are all of us examples of the ongoing process of creation, most joyfully evident in this season of Imbolc.

Thus is the world renewed, year after year.

This picture above is my favorite icon of the pregnant Mary. It is painted on the ceiling of a church in Huatulco, Mexico, and is advertised as the largest vision of Mary in Mexico - which is saying something. Having been there, I can tell you biggest or not, it is big. And beautiful. In fact I think this is my favorite church among all those I have visited in Mexico, land of a thousand gorgeous churches. This pregnant Mary (see the small blue fetus, floating upside down in her mid-section?) is so serene, so calm. May the spirit of Mary, of Brigid, of Iris enfold you this season, and may you take great delight in the awakening and the emergence of new growth this early spring season!