"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Littlest Huntress

Hope is ten, nearly eleven. She is a tall, graceful, athletic girl; just entering the stormy adolescent years. She is strong from gymnastics, an active and nimble thinker, and like many young girls her age, hotheaded and strong willed. For months she has been lobbying us to get her a BB gun. It seems her best friend has one, and she just has to have one too. She wants to hunt.

Sometime earlier this spring, we decided the time was right, and I bought her a mid-range air rifle - neither a toy nor a high powered weapon. It takes some real muscle to pump up the air pressure, and it is capable of firing BBs at 800 feet/second. We set up a target down in the bottom of the back pasture, and laid down the law about safety and seriousness. She would get exactly no second chances, we said - break the rules, and the gun goes bye bye for a long long time.

For about six weeks, we made her shoot only at that one target, and only when an adult was nearby. Hope grumbled and repeatedly asked when she would be allowed to actually hunt, but she followed the rules. She got pretty good, too: she could sometimes shoot a bottle cap from twenty feet away, and a tin can from twice as far. Yesterday, after chasing several rabbits out of the garden, Homero told her to go ahead and try to shoot one.

Rabbits are a plague around here. When Ivory was younger, they had a healthy respect for her and stayed away. Once in a while, she would catch one, but it takes a young, quick dog to catch a rabbit very often. As she got older, they got bolder, and now that she is twelve, she simply lays in the sun and pricks up her ears as they run past.

No rabbit, however, can run 800 feet per second, and it seems they are no match for Hope's eye, either. Within a half hour of being given permission, Hope came running back to the house yelling that she had killed a rabbit.

"Where is it?" we asked.

"Out here!" she answered, and she went galloping over the grass with Paloma bouncing behind her. I followed slowly, and saw the girls come to a stop, circling and looking down. They bent over, then sprang back up with sharp little cries of alarm, arms flying.

"Is it dead?" I yelled.


"Then pick it up!"

After a few false starts, Hope picked the rabbit up by the back legs and trotted back towards the house. Homero and I bickered briefly over who was going to skin and dress it (I won; he did it) and we praised Hope lavishly.

I didn't really want to eat it (I've had wild rabbit before  - The Land Provides, part 1 - and I'm not too crazy about it) but we had talked to Hope before about eating what we kill and killing what we eat, and she would have been rightly appalled at our hypocrisy if we hadn't cooked her first kill. Moreover, she deserved us to make a big deal out of it. It IS a big deal.

I marinated the jointed rabbit (it probably weighed all of a pound, skinned and gutted) and braised it in beer with collards, onions, peppers, and corn kernels. The vegetables were delicious, but the rabbit itself was, as I expected, tough and bland. Maybe next time I will try a pressure cooker.

Oh yes, there will be a next time. Hope went back out and shot another rabbit ten  minutes after the first one. I convinced her the second rabbit was too small to eat (it was tiny) and that she shouldn't feel bad tossing it into the tall bushes; if it didn't become food for us, it would surely be food for something. The law of nature, I explained, is that "wherever there is something to eat, there will be something to eat it." If I remember, I got that out of Dune, from the planetary ecologist Kynes.

I really am proud of my middle child. She is beautiful, and growing up, and dangerous. She is at that frightening and lovely age when she is coming into her power, all unaware. She is stunning in her pride, and in her unconscious grace. She has already left her infancy behind, and in another year, or two or three, she will suddenly be a young woman. And in a few years after that, the cares and preoccupations of womanhood will take over, and the last traces of her childhood will be gone.

Artemis, most chaste and perilous Goddess, be with my young huntress. Help her learn to guide her arrows wisely, and lend her your fierceness and your unapologetic pride. Run with her through the trackless woods of adolescence. Protect her, and set your hounds on anyone who would try to cage her or make her doubt herself. Be her wild friend. Light her way with moonbeams, and let your silver laughter ring through her dreams.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Self-Administered Supplements (Separating the Sheep from the Goats)

Goats need regular mineral supplementation, just like cows and horses do. For cows and horses, you basically just buy a salt-lick. These are cheap, available everywhere, and formulated for cows and horses, the most common and highly valued livestock around. You can get medicated and unmedicated salt-blocks, you can get them in white, red, blue, green and grey, and in every size from five pounds on up to fifty. 

Most farm stores also carry sheep minerals. Usually these are in the form of a fifty pound bag of loose minerals, rather than a solid block, and are meant to be poured out into a trough and left for the animals to nibble on as they choose. For the first several years I was here, I thought these were adequate supplements for goats, as well. Sheep, goats, what's the difference, really? In every livestock book out there for the smallholder, goats and sheep are lumped together as "small ruminants." Even the vet does the same thing, for example advertising a "small ruminant" workshop every spring. Usually, these things are geared more toward a sheep than they are toward goats. 

Goats are... well, the "goats" of the farm world. They are the low animal on the totem pole. Few veterinarians are trained specifically in goat care (if you don't believe me, take a sample of opinions from any ten goat owners). Farm stores seldom carry items targeted for goats, be they hoof-trimmers, disbudding machines, or feed and minerals. The prevailing attitude towards goats seems to be that they are tough, independent animals that don't really need active care; just throw them some hay and whatever you have and they'll be all right. 

It is true that goats are often shockingly neglected. I think it stems from many people not even knowing what a healthy goat in the prime of life actually looks like. Dairy goat breeds are supposed to have short, sleek, shiny coats - not shaggy coarse hair. They ought to be pleasingly plump, with visible hipbones, but no sharp projections anywhere. Their hooves ought to be dainty and short, not long and certainly not curled or chipped. At all times, goats should be active and sprightly, never lethargic or weak. 

In order to maintain this good health, one of the things they need, it turns out, is a mineral supplement formulated specifically for GOATS, not for sheep. Goats need a higher level of copper in their diets than do sheep (http://www.extension.org/pages/19383/goat-nutrition-copper#.U3wKeF6BlQY) and if fed sheep supplements over a long period of time, they will become copper deficient and susceptible to parasites. Parasites are a complex problem in goats, with many more factors in play, but copper levels are an important one. I learned this the hard way. 

For a long time, after I initially requested it, my local feed store carried Purina Goat Minerals, and my goats loved it and ate it up with relish. But for some reason, since we returned from Mexico, Purina Goat Minerals are no longer available locally. My store didn't carry any goat minerals at all and tried to sell me sheep minerals again, but I insisted that they get me some goat stuff. What they came up with (I misremember the name and do not choose, at this time, to walk out to the barn and take a look) is presumably perfectly adequate from a nutritional standpoint, but the goats don't like it. In order to get them to eat it, I have to mix it with grain and molasses. 

The goats seem, however, to have found another source of needed minerals. I often let the goats out to browse outside of their pasture on sunny afternoons, and whenever I do, the first place they go is the fire pit. While I can't make much of an educated guess about the chemical composition, much less the copper content, I can say that the goats eat up the wood ashes with alacrity. Yesterday we burned a bunch of scrap wood and cardboard that was lying about the place, and the ashes left behind must have been delicious, because the does were fighting each other for the best spot. 

I'm not worried that they might poison themselves, because we don't burn treated wood, plastic, or other trash. I'm only a little bit concerned that I am not providing them with enough loose minerals, or else they wouldn't be so crazy about the fire pit. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Spring Pictures (Voyeurism)

It may be the middle of May, but spring is finally in full swing here in the upper northwest. We have enjoyed nearly an entire week of very warm, sunny days. Yesterday I took a walk around a beautiful residential neighborhood in Bellingham, cruising the alleys and checking out the backyard gardens.

Although I am only a few miles north of Bellingham, my homestead has a very cold microclimate (as I think I may have mentioned once or a thousand times) and it is always surprising to me to see just how much further ahead the season is downtown as compared to here.

Irises are my favorite flower. I have gorgeous giant blue irises in my yard (a few years ago I traded eggs for bulbs) but they haven't bloomed yet, they are still stately green spires. These irises were lovely in the afternoon sunshine.


Bleeding hearts


I don't grow flowers - except for that one clump of irises and the rhododendron bushes that line the front path I am content with wildflowers on my property. But it was lovely to see the flower gardens surrounding the beautiful old homes on my walk yesterday. I am a bit too practical for flowers - unless it's edible I'm not really interested in growing it. But these flowers almost make me change my mind. Almost. 

There are plenty of edible-oriented garden in the downtown areas, as well. That's one of the reasons I like to walk the alleys - most people plant their flowers out front and their vegetable gardens in the backyard. I would say nearly every home has something edible planted - a fruit tree or other perennial - and about a third have an actual garden of some sort.  Favorites in our area include:


Raspberries; so many homes have a line of raspberry canes running along the back of a shed or the alley. These are in bloom. The flowers are not impressive, but there were plenty of bees. Grapevines are also a popular item, and now are just putting out their fresh green leaves and tendrils. 

I have definite voyeuristic tendencies when it comes to other people's yards. I like to look and see how they have things organized and think how I would use the same space for food production. All those little flower bushes could be blueberries, for example, and that weedy space on the side of the porch looks just right for a chicken coop.... I'd train a grapevine over that carport, I think, or use that sunny lawn space for raised beds...

I can't be the only one who does this. Mentally rearranging other people's space is a fun exercise, but the truth is I have plenty of actual rearranging to do here at home. Last week I went to a giant plant sale and got a lot of plants, cheap. I have to get them into the ground soon. I bought a flat of roma tomatoes (which can finally be set outside) and several containers of strawberries. I'm running out of garden space... but that's another post.