"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

It Rained a Murder

The weather has all of us in a funk. It simply will not stop raining for more than an hour or two. Yesterday I saw the sun and ran and did a load of laundry on the short cycle so I could hang it to dry before it started to rain again. It wouldn't have dried, but the wind is so stiff that it dried in just an hour or two, and when the rain began again I took it all in.

The yard looks like hell, the animals are living in a swamp, and I've had to replant my peas twice and it looks like I may have to do it again. I have a few seedlings started in the greenhouse, but overall it looks like this will be a very late garden this year.

My husband can't stand it. He hates the rain and cold with a passion, because he works outside most of the time. A fair chunk of the day he spends on his back under a car, and if he has to lie in a puddle that's not going to put anybody in a very good mood. He has begun to make noises about trying to get away somewhere warm. I can't say as I blame him. I'd like to go somewhere dry, at least.

I know I bitch and moan about the rain and mud every spring (and every fall) but in fact, we are at more than double the average precipitation for March. In a normal year, we expect a generous 7" of rain in March - this year we have received over 16". Really, frayed tempers and muddy boots are the least of it. The rain can have deadly consequences, as it did for the small community of Darrington, just a few miles south of us.

Unofficial death toll climbs to 24 in Washington state mudslide

A square mile of mountain simply slid down into the Stillaguamish river, taking some thirty homes and a hundred or more  people with it. The rescue effort has by now become a recovery mission, but the truth is that probably many bodies will never be recovered. The mud is more than fifteen feet deep in some areas, and the river is backing up into a lake, drowning more land.

And still it rains, hampering the recovery efforts, making the debris field unstable and too dangerous to search. Will it never stop? Will we ever be dry again, will we ever be warm? Sitiing here in my chilly, damp house, I am reminded of Tom Robbins' passage, in his debut novel Another Roadside Attraction, on the subject of the local rains:

“And then the rains came. They came down from the hills and up from the sound. And it rained a sickness. And it rained a fear. And it rained an odor. And it rained a murder. And it rained dangers and pale eggs of the beast. Rain poured for days, unceasing. Flooding occurred. The wells filled with reptiles. The basements filled with fossils. Mossy-haired lunatics roamed the dripping peninsulas. Moisture gleamed on the beak of the raven. Ancient Shaman's rained from their homes in dead tree trunks, clacked their clamshell teeth in the drowned doorways of forests. Rain hissed on the freeway. It hissed at the prows of fishing boats. It ate the old warpaths, spilled the huckleberries, ran into the ditches. Soaking. Spreading. Penetrating. And it rained an omen. And it rained a poison. And it rained a pigment. And it rained a seizure.”

If you want to help the families and communities devastated by the slide, you can donate to the Red Cross here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

State of the Farm (Spring Equinox)

When two feet of snow melts, it leaves a lot of water. For more than a week, there was a tiny running stream going out the driveway and into the ditch. As it warmed up, we passed from winter to spring, as marked by the beginning of mud season. The mud is knee deep out in the barnyard, viscous and hungry. Pulling my boot out of the mud takes real effort, and once in a while my knee joint slips out of place as I pull, being weaker than the mud. 

The thaw was followed by a few fair days, and even though I knew better, the warm sun tempted me to plant a packet of snow peas. I do this every year; I can't seem to resist the temptation to plant too early. Mr. B., my 80 year old neighbor who has had a farm stand for some sixty years, shook his head at me dolefully when I told him, over coffee in the church basement, that I had planted peas. 

"Them peas'll rot in the ground," he told me. And I know he's right. It rained like murder the last three days. But what the hell - the exercise was good for me, it won't hurt me to repeat it in another week. 

The arugula in the redneck cold frame is doing better. The soil was so warm I had to take the glass off; then I had to put it back on to save the sprouts from drowning. The other bathtub is full of mixed mustards; they are further along than the arugula. The first vegetable and herb starts are available at the farm store, and I bought some italian parsley. They pack about a hundred seeds into a three by three pot; separating them is a laborious task. I did the best I could and planted a 12"x24" container with them. Hopefully that will keep me in parsley for the summer. I also have radish and carrot seeds on hand, ready plant whenever the next stretch of dry weather comes along. 

Rowan's boyfriend, P. (I must come up with a blog nickname for him) pays me rent in work. I charge him and Rowan each eight hours of work a month in rent. I think it's a fair deal - that's $100 a month at $12/hour, roughly. This month, he's been doing general yard clean up and last week it was dry enough to actually make a burn pile. We got rid of all the scrap wood - broken chairs, rotted lumber, fruit tree prunings - and paper-based trash about the place. It makes a big difference. I am planning a big party for May and I don't want the homestead to look like Arkansas circa 1936. 

Lucky for us, the annual breakdown of the dryer coincided with the start of spring. Homero made one attempt at fixing it that took him most of a day, but it still makes a hideous clonking and squealing whenever we turn it on, so I asked him to string some clothesline instead. Even if the dryer doesn't breakdown, I try to switch to air-drying during the warmer months. Why pay for electricity when the sun and the constant stiff breeze up here will do the job for free? 

More cleanup: there were three winter squash that didn't get eaten over the winter, and with the warm weather they finally began to get soft and icky. For a while I kidded myself that I could still save the seeds, but finally the mold took over and I threw them out on the compost for the chickens. This is what I call "spring cleaning" at my house.

Finally, spring of course means kidding season. Two of my three does have kidded already - both throwing twins. The last one is Iris. I'm thoroughly puzzled by her behavior. All winter I would have sworn she was pregnant. I saw the buck service her many times, and she failed to return to heat after his visit. Her tail skin got thick and doughy (a sign of early pregnancy) and as the season progressed, she got just as big as the other two. But they both kidded weeks ago. And Iris has gotten slimmer instead of bigger, and her udder remains stubbornly flaccid. Today she managed to slip out of the field through the loosely chained gate - something she hasn't been able to do for months. I can't figure it out. Maybe she lost the kid sometime over the past month and I missed the signs? But I haven't noticed any bleeding or discharge. I'm at a loss. She is still quite a bit bigger than the does who DID kid, so I'm not giving up hope. I'll just have to wait and see. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

New Frontier in Goat Care (Disbudding)

Polly's buckling, the survivor of the twins, is growing incredibly fast because he is getting all of Polly's milk. I didn't think one baby goat would even be capable of draining Polly, who is a prodigious producer, but this little guy is doing a pretty good job. Although only ten days old, it was already time to disbud him. 

Disbudding goats means burning the little horn buds off with a red-hot iron, an electric machine that looks like a giant version of the cigarette lighter in your car. Usually, this is done at about two weeks of age. It's a delicate procedure - albeit that's a strange word to use in conjunction with the phrase "red hot iron." It's quite easy to make mistakes. One can either be too gentle and hesitant, in which case the buds aren't completely destroyed and the goat ends up with weird, misshapen "scurs" instead of horns; or one can be too aggressive and damage the baby's brain. 

Even the veterinarian can make mistakes - a few years ago I lost a baby that I brought to be disbudded at the vet ( This One Really Hurts (Bad Year for Baby Goats)). The risk of killing a goat, along with the inherent barbarity of the procedure and the cost of buying a disbudding iron, combined to prevent me from attempting to do my own disbudding. Until now. 

Blizzard in a disbudding box

So far this year, I have three bucklings and no does (Flopsy kidded yesterday with adorable twin bucklings - photos to follow). Bucklings, especially unregistered bucklings, are not very valuable, being worth only about half as much as doelings. I listed my bucklings for $75 on craigslist. Disbudding costs $50 at the vet. You can see that it just isn't financially viable to take bucklings to the vet for disbudding. Doelings, maybe; I can usually get $150 for a pretty, spotted doe. 

In past years, I have taken my babies to a farmer to be disbudded, and so I have seen what it looks like without anesthesia. It's about like you'd imagine. But I decided I have to get over myself and give it a try. I was a nurse once - blood and guts and screaming in pain isn't supposed to bother me. 

In case you are wondering why we don't just leave the buds on and let them grow horns, there are a few reasons. With does that I plan on keeping, I do let them grow horns. Polly has horns and it isn't a problem. In fact they make convenient handles. Bucks are different, however. A horned buck can be a dangerous animal, especially during rut. My goats come from a line of large, heavy animals and a full grown buck probably weighs about 200 pounds. I don't want a horned buck on the property. He could hurt not just me or the kids, but the does. I have heard about pregnant does miscarrying because they were butted by bucks. Also, it's difficult to to sell a horned animal. And occasionally, a horned goat will stick his or her head through a fence and get stuck. That's not a fun situation to deal with. 

 For all of these reasons, I decided that this was the year I was going to disbud my own baby goats. I asked around among my friends, and a neighbor of mine, K., was willing to lend us their iron and their baby box. Homero and I showed up with Blizzard and a fresh hot loaf of zucchini bread. K. and her husband had the iron heated up already, and it was just a few minutes work to pop the baby in the box and clip the fur on his head.

Before burning the buds, you are supposed to use hoof trimmers (or something like that) to cut off the tips of the horn buds. For some reason, that part made me feel much more queasy than the cauterizing did. I made Homero do that part, but then I did the burning. I sat down on the box behind the baby goat, and while Homero grabbed his head, I applied the iron firmly to the bud, twisting back and forth and counting to six. Most people say ten, but I wasn't taking any chances on burning his brains. I could always re-apply.

However it wasn't necessary. You can tell when you are done by the "copper ring" around the horn bud - that's a shiny, copper colored ring which I believe is actually burnt bone. It shows up pretty well in the photo below. Then you use the side of the iron to burn the middles a little bit more - just a second or two - and then the little fried cap of skin comes off, and you're done. On that side, anyway.

the copper ring

A robust baby goat ought to stay conscious and actively struggling throughout the procedure. You don't want to render them unconscious; that's probably going to cause brain damage. After you are done, promptly return the baby goat to its mother - they should run right up and nurse for comfort. The thing to remember is that even if the baby looks like he or she has come through with no ill effects, keep a close eye on them for 48 hours. If there is going to be trouble, it will be the result of inflammation and swelling of the brain. Inflammation peaks about 48 hours after injury and then begins to decline. If you have Banamine, an injectable anti-inflammatory, that's a good idea. Ask your vet for dosage information.

I'll be watching young Blizzard for any signs of trouble, but I expect he will be just fine. And I feel fine, too. It wasn't anywhere near as hard as I'd thought it was going to be. I actually had serious doubts about whether or not I would be able to do it, when push came to shove. But I guess once a nurse, always a nurse - the screaming  didn't bother me much at all.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

No More Hay

We are out of hay. We still have a need for hay - it will be another month before it dries out enough that I can put the animals out on the pasture. At least. This year I tried to keep the heavy hooves off the pasture all winter long - the horses went into the sacrifice area in late October or early November and they haven't been out since (except for a few sunny winter days that I brought them out onto the front lawn). Since we were in Mexico last year and the horses were boarded out, the pasture got a nice little rest. There were only three goats on 2.5 acres - well within the carrying capacity of the land. I wanted to extend that rest and generally start treating my pasture better.

My husband kind of messed up my pasture plans by insisting on a cow against my better judgement (Imaginary Cows). A calf is not as heavy as a horse, but a good deal heavier than a goat, and plenty heavy enough to damage wet pasture. Even so, keeping the two horses off the pasture all winter ought to go a long way towards resting the land.

But it also means we use more hay. Even in the dead of winter, around here there is always green grass to be found, except for a few weeks when the ground is actually frozen hard. Animals out on the pasture will graze. In the sacrifice area, we have to feed 100% hay all winter long, and it adds up.

The best time to buy hay, of course, is during haying time. If you are willing and able to jump in your truck and go pick up bales right behind the baler, you can often get first cut local hay for as low as $3 a bale. Better quality for $4. But this year we had no truck during haying season. An elderly farmer friend of ours saved some twenty five bales for me at cutting time prices until I could find a vehicle, but he is no longer able to help toss hay, being something over 77 years old. My husband was gone (for some reason, I can't remember why now) and I had to do it myself. Now, a healthy 40 year old woman ought to be able to toss 25 bales of hay and then stack them in her own barn without too much trouble. Each bale weighed between forty and fifty pounds. It's hard work, but it ought to be doable.

I, however, am a gimp. At that time, I had very recently blown my anterior cruciate ligament (collateral ligament?) and was barely able to walk. Rowan was pressed into service and between the two of us we managed to collect, transport, and stack the hay but it was one big bitch to do it. I took a lot of ibuprofen that night. That twenty-five bales had to feed two horses and four goats - three of them pregnant. It lasted until early January, if I remember right. About three months.

When we were nearly out of hay, I searched Craigslist and found a source of local, well-priced hay. Sadly, a small local dairy is going out of business and selling off the barn full of hay - having already sold off the calves. Homero and I went out and brought back another twenty bales. We figured that if twenty-five bales had lasted us three months, another twenty ought to last the rest of the way until spring.

But no. As it turned out this year, we had terrible, bone-chilling cold snaps and heavy snow and ice that lasted for weeks. I just read that this february is either the coldest on record in Bellingham or the fourth coldest, depending on how you measure (average daily lows or average daily highs). Also, the hay we bought - while green and good smelling - was for some reason very light. Each bale only weighed in the neighborhood of thirty pounds. I guess it was quite a bit dryer than the hay we bought earlier in the season. The animals went through it at an amazing speed - and today, we are out.

Forty-five bales in nearly five months isn't really so bad. It's only a little over two bales a week. And a total of $250. That does not, of course, amount to what it costs to feed the animals over the winter. Oh no! We also have to buy grain for the pregnant goats, chicken food for the chickens, and alfalfa pellets for the poor half-paralyzed calf that can't eat regular hay very well (for an explanation, see Rosie Pony Update (And Notes on the Cow)). If I figure the same rate of feed - two bales a week - we only need another dozen bales to get us through to the time I can put the animals on pasture.

However, I am once again without a vehicle. Sigh. We have one working vehicle and Homero took it to work. Tomorrow I can get some hay. Today I'm tiding them over with greens from the Gleaner's Pantry and stale bread. For one day, it won't kill anybody.