"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, June 23, 2014

High Summer Plans (Adios, Muchachas)

On thursday, my nieces, who have been living with us for the past year, are going home to Oaxaca. It's been a good year, and we have enjoyed having them here. The girls have been sweet and helpful, and have worked hard in school and in their English classes. Hopefully, they are going home with a pretty decent command of the language and with some understanding of life in another culture than their own, and also with stronger bonds with their cousins, our daughters.

As much as I liked having them here, and as privileged as I felt to have been entrusted with their care,  I would be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to them going home. This is nothing to do with the girls themselves, but simply with the fact that it has now been over two years since it's been just us - the nuclear family - in our own house.

The year before last, we were in Oaxaca living with my mother-in-law (see sister blog www.newtomexicanlife.blogspot.com). When we came home, we were in limbo for three months, renters still in our house, living here and there. And once we moved back into our home, it was only a few weeks before the nieces arrived for the most recent school year. During the year that they were here, we also hosted their father for some five weeks, their mother for three, and their grandmother for another three. Somewhere in there, my brother-in-law also came to stay for a few weeks. The number of people living in my house over the past year probably averaged out to about 9.5.

That many people puts a strain on the facilities - the washing machine, the septic system, the hot water heater, the refrigerator - and on the nerves, no matter how delightful they may be as individuals. Doubling the number of children in the house more than doubles the mess, the noise, the dishes, the laundry, and the gasoline spent driving them all hither and yon to double the number of activities. Even for an American, I require rather a lot of privacy and quiet time, and hosting several gregarious Mexican relatives at the same time and over the course of a year took a lot out of me. I wouldn't have it any other way - I married into this crowd and I'm damn glad I did - but I'm also ready for a rest.

Homero feels the same way. This spring, his fortieth birthday coincided with his niece's fifteenth - a major milestone year in Mexico - and I threw a very large party. I hadn't thrown a party like this since Rowan's fifteenth birthday, six years ago. We butchered a goat and I hired Mariachis. The house was scrubbed every day for a week beforehand and three women cooked up a storm for 48 hours straight ahead of time. My friends and relatives came from as far away as Philadelphia and Oaxaca. There were about seventy people, give or take. The party began at four in the afternoon with flowers and white tablecloths and wound down around two in the morning with Corona and kareoke around the ashes of a big bonfire. It was a huge success, but when it was over, Homero said "Amor, don't make any more plans for this summer, okay?"

Both of us would love to have a nice, low-key summer vacation, just hanging out at home with the kids. I hope we can, but already, less than two weeks since school ended, the obligations and plans are piling up. Hope and Paloma have been taking gymnastics at a local gym, and last week they tried out for the competitive team. Both of them made the cut - which means twice weekly practice and monthly meets in Seattle. Additionally, I recently earned my state interpreter's license and have started taking actual jobs and earning actual money - something I would like to do a bit more of in the summer when my farmwife/homemaker duties are on the lighter side. And although I just said that farm duties are lighter right now, this is, of course, cheese season - twice daily milking and cheese making twice or three times a week. Also, there is no forgetting that summer is preserving season - if we are to have berries, tomato sauce, pickles, cajeta, jam, and salmon next winter, I have to make it this July and August.

In addition to all these regular chores, here are some things I'd like to do this summer -

- Training Poppy. This is a whole 'nother post, but Poppy has had some training/breaking recently, and can now be considered "green broke." I have bought the minimum of tack needed - a bridle and a bareback pad - and want to get the kids to ride her around the paddock at least three or four times a week. Training the horse and teaching the kids to ride simultaneously is a complicated and expensive endeavor which deserves elaboration in it's own post, but suffice it to say that this is the summer I decide if it is worth the time and expense to keep a horse.

- Go to Victoria. I love Victoria, and I have never taken the younger girls. Homero and I took Rowan many years ago, but the littler ones don't know it. It's a great weekend trip, a perfect two-nighter. The  Royal Museum ( http://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca ) is one of the coolest museums for kids on the entire North American continent, and that's only one of many wonderful things to do in Victoria (another will be to visit our good friend Andrew).

- Go to the ocean. It's been years since the family went out to the coast - the little girls have never been, I don't think. I myself haven't been in at least three years, and that's just an unacceptable amount of time. We have the use, this summer, of my mom's very nice and comfortable, mechanically sound class A recreational vehicle, and I can think of no higher purpose to put it to than introducing my daughters to the mighty North Pacific.

- Put in a French drain and fix the far bedroom. The list just wouldn't be complete without a major construction project. While my brother-in-law (a contractor) was here, I asked him about the stubborn and recurring patch of mold in the far bedroom and asked if he could find the leak in the roof.

"There's no leak in the roof," he said. "That's water from the backyard. See the slope?"

Our backyard is higher than the house, and given the ridiculous amount of rain we get, there are several metric tons of eater sitting right up against the house foundations for most of the year. We need to take advantage of the dry season (July and August) to put in a French drain and reroute the water around the east side of the house to the ditch. And also to replace the moldy wallboard in the far bedroom, and hope like hell that the beams that sit on top of the foundation are not rotted.

That seems like a summer's worth of stuff, at least. I notice that I've put all the fun stuff first. That is, in fact, how I intend to do it. If I have to spend thousands of dollars and a couple of weeks freaking out about mold and rot, I can at least do it with a nice tan, after I've taken my kids to the beach.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Cow Caper (Good Neighbors)

Yesterday as I was returning home with a car full of girls from their various lessons - gymnastics for some, English for others - I got a call from my next door neighbor with the giant house.

"Your cow, she is on the road," he said.

"Oh no!" I yelled. "I'll be right there, I'm two minutes away!"

For those of you who don't know, the road in question is a state highway that runs from I-5 on one end ten miles west to a major refinery on the other. The speed limit is 50 mph, but in actuality big rigs full of gasoline, propane, and god knows what other fossil fuels careen down the highway at 65 plus, all day long. I thought of one of those trucks hitting my poor stupid cow and smashing her to a paste, then erupting in a giant fireball, or jack-knifing and spilling 10,000 gallons of oil all over the hillside. I pictured a ten car pileup. I visualized the next day's headline: "Imbecilic farmer loses livestock; causes worst tragedy in years."

"Keep your eyes peeled," I told all the girls, but nobody saw the cow during the three minutes it took us to get home.

As I pulled into the driveway, I saw the cow being led back into the paddock (the gate was wide open) with a small crowd of neighbors behind her. I screeched to a halt and began a dance of gratitude, thanking everyone around me abjectly for catching my cow and thereby avoiding a terrifying accident and a lawsuit of hideous proportions.

My good neighbors chuckled and told stories of escaped animals from their youth. They waved away offers of reward. They headed off across the fields home, leaving me standing there feeling foolish and grateful.

I have no idea who left the gate open or when. Statistically speaking, it was probably me.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

New Trade Route

The trade network has been pretty much dormant since I got back from Mexico. We made that one great trade last summer - a baby goat for four turkeys ( Turkey Trade )- but nothing the robust networks I had going on a few years ago ( On Trading and CanningMaking Trade Goods (Gratuitous Canning Advice)Recent Trades and a Good Idea).

Then a new trading avenue opened up; I was invited to join a Facebook group of local farmers looking to trade goods and services. So far, it has only resulted in two actual trades - my pork chops for fresh cow's milk, and then my empty canning jars and some fresh cheese for these lovely canned plums, above. Since I have more cheese than I know what to do with, I asked people on the list who might be interested in some of it - as a free gift, from one neighbor to another, NOT for sale, which would be illegal. It's not illegal, however, for you to give me some of your extra snap peas. Not in exchange, you see, but just because you have too many of them. Just as I have too much cheese. Ahem.

Seriously, the legality of trading is so nebulous and cobwebby I don't even want to look into it. I'm sure it's illegal, just like EVERYTHING ELSE I want to do. Especially trading milk products. That probably would get me five to ten in the state pen. Please don't tell.

Please. I'll give you cheese.

I've already written a post about the legality of trading and admitting myself to be a scofflaw and an unrepentant participant in the informal economy (State of the Trade Network 2010 (What's Your Perspective?), so I won't go into it again here. But I am still interested - what do you all think about trading? Do you do it? Do you report it to the IRS? Do you think it ought to be regulated?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Mystery Mortality (Milk Glut)

In the last two weeks we've gone from four baby goats to only two baby goats. One of them was served at our big party, so that was an expected death (and very delicious he was, too; I'm thinking in the future we may choose to butcher at 4 months instead of seven). However the second death, that of Flopsy's buckling Comet, was a complete mystery.

Comet was one of Flopsy's twins, born in March. The other buckling was sold intact for a very decent price and presumably is doing just fine. Comet was wethered and was marked as a meat animal, but that didn't stop him from being a favorite because he was so cute. Usually we don't name animals we plan on eating, but this little guy's white spots on a black background gave him the name Comet.

Comet was perfectly healthy and never ailed a day in his rather short life, until the last day. In the morning we heard him screaming and walked out to look for him in the tall grass. He was standing alone, sides heaving, with green frothy vomit all over his head and neck. Goats do not vomit. They just don't. In all my time raising goats, I have only ever seen them vomit from severe carbohydrate overload, and that obviously hadn't happened here because the barn where we keep the grain was closed and locked. 

As the day progressed, Comet kept screaming, almost continuously, and wouldn't eat, drink, or nurse. There was no more vomit, but he frothed at the mouth and dripped saliva. He was not pooping, though he would strain and heave. His symptoms seemed to be almost exclusively GI related - no neurological symptoms, no staggering or looking up at the sky like goats do when brain damaged. He got progressively dehydrated.

We spoke to the vet, of course. I thought of plant poisoning - we do have several poisonous plants on the property, but the goats generally leave them alone. I mentioned tansy, rhododendron, and hemlock, but the vet said none of those would cause vomiting, and would produce neurological signs. He suggested that a blockage was much more likely and said we should bring him in for exploratory surgery. He also said that vomiting was quite likely to cause inhalation pneumonia and that he would need antibiotic treatment quickly to avoid death from that cause. 

Well, that wasn't going to happen. Here I had an animal with a cash value of approximately $75 to $100, and treatment options began at several hundred dollars, with, of course, no guarantee of a good outcome. We decided to give Comet the day to start showing signs of recovery and to put him out of his misery if he continued the same or worse. Since he wouldn't drink, he was getting very dehydrated. He began to pant heavily and collapsed.

In the belief that a blockage was the most likely explanation, I decided to try and drench him with some neutral oil. I was terrified that I was going to pour a pint of oil into his lungs and kill him, but he was pretty close to dying already and I figured I couldn't very well make things worse. With Homero's help, we slid a tube down his throat and poured in some oil, and Comet thrashed weakly and fought us off the best he could. 

I don't know if his efforts exhausted his last reserves or if we did, in fact, kill him by our "treatment" but within a half hour he was obviously close to death, still crying weakly, so we went ahead and euthanized him with a .22. Poor little guy. 

We thought about having the vet do a post mortem, but Homero said he could do it himself, at least look for anything obvious. We skinned and prepared him for butchering as usual, but instead of throwing out the GI tract intact, Homero dissected it. I was expecting to find a fat, red gut, evidence of a torsion or a severe blockage, but everything looked completely normal. His intestines were slim, pearly grey, and just about empty. The liver and gallbladder were normal as well. Homero even opened up the rumen and checked carefully for any foreign objects, but there was just nothing to be found. 

The only odd thing we did find is that one of his lungs was swollen and covered in petechiae (small blood spots, showing that there had been a hemorrhage). The lung was abnormal enough that it might have explained his death, but of course I suspected I might have caused that myself by pouring a bunch of oil into it. It is also possible that he inhaled something and then damaged himself trying to cough it out. Severe coughing can cause vomiting in people, I don't know about goats. I thought eight hours would be too soon to show evidence of inhalation pneumonia, but maybe not. My farrier told me they once had a horse die in less than a day from that cause. 

I haven't the slightest idea what killed Comet. Well, I know what killed him - a bullet to the back of the head. But I have no idea what made him so sick. It could have been anything, from plant poisoning (a friend sent me a page from an old goat medicine book that detailed symptoms of rhododendron poisoning, and it was oddly accurate. It mentioned the screaming, the vomiting, and the labored breathing. I don't know why the vet said rhododendrons don't cause vomiting) to some kind of allergic reaction to a bite or sting. I am, however, pretty sure it wasn't a contagious illness because every other goat on the place is healthy as pie. 

It's been three days now, and no other goat has shown the slightest sign of any illness. On the contrary, they all are sleek and plump, and giving large quantities of milk. Now I have two in-milk does who have no kids on them, and so I am milking two goats twice a day. Once, long ago, I sold off all my kids young and then spent the next four months chained to the milking stand, and I swore I would never do that again. Goats must be milked every twelve hours, rain or shine, unless they have kids to nurse. I am bringing about two gallons of milk a day into the house, and it is a constant challenge to figure out what to do with it. 

A couple of days ago, we made cajeta (sweet delicious goat's milk caramel sauce - for a recipe visit  http://www.everything-goat-milk.com/cajeta.html), which used up a few gallons. I have several pounds of cheese in the fridge, and right now there is a whole pillowcase full of chèvre hung up to drain outside. It's a damn shame I can't sell any of this cheese. Good friends and neighbors are encouraged to drop by with containers. Feel free to bring any surplus garden vegetables you have. I'm particularly fond of snap peas. 

It's tough to lose an animal without knowing why. I'm sorry Comet suffered so much. I wish I knew what happened so I could try to prevent it from ever happening again. But at least I can be reasonably sure it wasn't due to any gross farming error on my part. The other healthy goats attest to that.