Today I chose the slippery beam. Apparently both choices are equally awful. Walked back to the house this time with a cold muddy bum.
Sunday, December 27, 2015
Saturday, December 26, 2015
Just went out to do the afternoon feeding, with Haku tied to me via a long leash around my waist. That's my new plan for desensitizing him to the livestock - take him with me every day and make him walk among the animals. It's about 4 o'clock, dim, very cold, and very muddy.
It's been very muddy for weeks. The mud is worse than average this year, because we raised a pig this year. Pigs always root up, dig, and generally soften up the ground wherever they are, and this pig spent a lot of time in the barnyard. Homero laid a couple of wide 2x8 beams across the worst of the yard, and that helped for a while. But now the mud has come up over the beams, and while you can still see where they are, they aren't much help anymore. They're slippery, see.
I have to choose between trying to walk on a slippery beam with a 90 lb. dog tied to my waist - a dog that is tugging manfully - or walking in the mud. I chose the mud. I have good boots. They go up to my knees.
One of my good boots got stuck. Really stuck. I pulled and pulled - I let Haku pull and pull to help me - but no dice. That boot was in almost to the top and it wasn't coming out. After a few minutes of thinking and not coming up with any plans, I gave in to the inevitable.
I slipped my foot out of the boot and set it down in the mud. It sank in right up to my shins - just as cold, squishy, and awful as I had known it would be. Without my foot inside, it was easy to grasp the empty boot and pull it up. Now I had a new dilemma. Should I put my gross muddy foot back inside my boot, or should I carry the boot and keep the inside clean, and walk back to the house half barefoot?
I really didn't want to get the inside of my boot as muddy as the outside. Then I'd have to clean it out with the hose, and it would be wet for days. So I started off towards the house - about 50 yards - squish, squish, squish.
It froze last night. Not hard enough to lock up the mud, obviously, but enough to make the ground very uncomfortable on a bare foot. When I hit the sharp, frozen gravel, I decided to put my boot back on. Now I have one leg wet and filthy to the knee, and two muddy boots - one on the inside as well as the outside.
Haku, as usual, has four legs muddy to the hocks. He doesn't care.
Saturday, December 19, 2015
The farm, like the earth itself, is practically in hibernation right now. I can hardly remember a time when we have had fewer animals. The cow and the pig have both been butchered. The turkeys are gone as well, having been butchered and sold for Thanksgiving. The freezer is full of meat, and the only live animals I have left are the perennials - ponies, goats, and chickens.
The weather has been unrelenting. Except for one quick, two day freeze that brought a half-inch dusting of snow, it's been all mud. The chores are so miserable that I have allowed the unthinkable: chores once a day instead of twice. In my defense, the days are very short - there are barely eight hours of daylight, and that of a dubious, dark grey quality. We feed once, at about 11 am, double rations for everybody. As the animals are all huddled in the barn against the chill and the damp, they are not expending very much energy.
I always take Haku (the new shepherd) with us to do chores - he needs the exercise, but it is a giant pain in the ass. He cannot be trusted off leash, nor can he come into the main paddock with me, even on leash. The mere sight of the sheep sends him into a berserker rage and at 90 pounds, he is quite capable of pulling me off balance and sending me ass-first into the mud. So I put him in the adjacent pasture while I do chores, and he leaps frenetically at the fence and barks himself hoarse while I trudge through the mud.
"Shut up, Haku," I scream, with an armload of hay, the wind whipping half of it out of my arms and into my eyes.
"Shut UP, Haku," I scream, as I dig my naked hands into the ordure and pry the chicken's feed pan loose and carry it over to the hose for cleaning.
"Haku, for the love of all that's holy, SHUT UP!" I yell, as I duck back into the mama barn to scoop up chicken food. After a moment, I realize there is silence - and it is not relief I feel, but dread. I pop out of the barn, and see Haku dragging the sheep around the lower pasture by the scruff of her neck. I don't know how he got from one pasture to the other, but it hardly matters at the moment.
"HAKU!" I scream, and start to run after them. The mudboots I have put on are too small, and I am running with my toes curled under. It hurts.
"HAKU!" I keep screaming. The dog cheerfully ignores me. Even dragging the sheep, he easily outmaneuvers me. Occasionally, the sheep will break free and run for a bit, and Haku seems to enjoy it when she does, for it gives him a chance to chase her around again. The dog and sheep make large circles; I make smaller circles inside their orbit, lunging and stumbling and screaming ineffectually. I wasn't exactly checking my watch, but it felt like a good ten minutes before I managed to step on Haku's leash as he dashed by me and bring him to a jerking halt.
I was so angry at him. This is not the first - nor the second, nor the third - time he has attacked the sheep. He has never actually injured her, I think because her wool is so thick he can drag her around with a mouthful of wool without piercing her skin, but the poor thing is seriously traumatized. Haku has been punished each time, but it makes no impression. I'm going to risk the collective opprobrium of the internet by admitting that when I finally managed to drag Haku off of the poor sheep, I growled at him, flipped him on his back, twisted his ruff savagely, and whacked him across the snout with my bare hand, hard enough to hurt. "NO!" I yelled into his face. "NO!"
I dragged him out of the pasture and tied him to the fence by his leash while I finished my chores. The sheep was cowering in the far corner of the barn, but when I tried to approach her to check her for injuries she nimbly stepped around me and took off. That is, to me, enough evidence that she isn't seriously injured. As the late, great James Herriot said, if you can't catch your patient there probably isn't too much to worry about.
For those of you who might wonder, Haku is enrolled in a professional training course and we take him once a week. We also have a friend who is a professional trainer and she comes quite often to help us. Haku is a challenging dog, to say the least. He is an absolute sweetheart with the family - loving and docile and playful and trustworthy. He is also fine with visitors and people in general - but with animals, be they livestock or other dogs, he is a holy terror.
We are committed to Haku - we knew when we adopted him that he had been given up twice by other families and that we were, practically speaking, his last chance. If we were to take him back to the shelter, he would be deemed unadoptable, and we all know what that means. We will never ever do that - Haku is ours forever, even if he succeeds in his lifelong ambition to kill the sheep. We were warned that he was released the last time for killing chickens. When we decided that we were in love, that we had to adopt him, Homero said (privately) "He can kill all the chickens, I don't care."
Our last dog - my first dog - Ivory , was also challenging as a puppy. There were times I felt I had made a mistake, that she would never be a proverbial "good dog." We had to hang tough for - I'm going to say three years, until she calmed down and became a relaxed family dog, instead of a crazy whirlwind of destruction. She used to lunge at the fence and bark whenever the neighbor came home. The poor girl was only trying to get into her own house, and Ivory made it a trial every day for years. She also used to steal all my daughter's stuffed animals, sneak them out through the dog door, and then tear a small hole in them and run around the backyard, shaking them violently, until all the stuffing came out. She did this over and over until he whole backyard looked like a ski resort.
As it turned out, Ivory did become a "good dog" She lived with us for fourteen years - years which spanned the birth of my children and the growth of my family from a city-dwelling duo to a country farming family of five. She learned to be a farm dog, to herd goats, to chase rabbits through the blackberry bushes, to hunt and kill rats. She accompanied our family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and she provided us her whole life long with affection and protection. She was a real true member of the family, and even now, almost a year after her death from a nasty cancer, I cry every time I remember her. I have ugly tears rolling down my cheeks right now.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
|the giant fish|
I am not a squeamish eater. I like liver, and I put the giblets in my gravy. Tacos de lengua are alright with me. As compared to your average American, I think I have a high tolerance for and even appreciation of variety meats. Or "offal" or whatever name you favor for all the bits that aren't straight up muscle meat.
It's true, though, that I like my offal disguised in a creamy pate (I make the best chicken liver pate you ever tasted) or minced into invisibility in a gravy. Like most Americans I know, I don't want to see an identifiable organ on my plate. Ew.
Homero is not American. He's Mexican, and in Mexico, they really do use "everything but the squeal." As they do in most other places around the world. It's pretty much just us rich white folks who can afford to ignore a third of the edible parts on an animal. In fact, most of the world will insist that the parts we refer to as "offal" include the best meat. I'm sure every organ has it's partisans; Homero is partial to the head.
Eyeballs. Cheek meat. Tongue. Brains. Even ears and snouts. It's all yummy to him, and it pretty much doesn't matter what animal you're talking about. Before we were married, the first time we were in Oaxaca together, Homero's sister made sheep's head soup (which was delicious) and Homero made a big show of scooping out the eyeball and eating it.
Right now, there is an entire cow's head in our freezer. It takes up a fair amount of the freezer all by itself. It's from our Jersey cow, who was butchered this past autumn. Homero insists that he is going to cook it - how, I haven't the faintest clue. We don't have a fire-proof receptacle capable of holding it - you'd need a medieval cauldron, even though she was a pretty small cow. Maybe he could barbecue it over an open fire outside.
Saturday, December 5, 2015
Monday, November 30, 2015
Sunday, November 22, 2015
A minute ago, I was reading a friend's blog ( The Well Run Dry ) and he was, as most of us do, lamenting the fact that the upcoming Christmas Season encourages blind commercialism and reduces the meaning of the holiday ("Holy Day") to something along the lines of an excel spreadsheet. I don't know a single person who doesn't hate this aspect of the season, yet we are all swept away on a tide of advertising and guilt, spending more than we intend or can afford, year after year on stuff that we don't need and that (in many cases) the recipients don't even want.
I composed a reply, saying that I tried to emphasize experiences over things, and in the middle of typing that sentence, I had a flash of inspiration.
"I just had a total brain wave. Oh my gosh this is such a good idea! There are in my small town, as in most, I'm sure, a million christmas activities planned - tree lighting ceremonies, public caroling, concerts, card-making for kids at the library, stuff like that. I am going to make AN ADVENT CALENDAR OF EVENTS!!! Am I genius or what? I'll search the local papers and online event calendars, and I have no doubt I can find SOMETHING for almost every day between Dec 1st and Christmas day. Choirs visiting various churches. Craft Bazaars. Showings of Christmas movies at senior centers. I'll make an actual Advent calendar, with little paper doors that open, and behind each door will be that day's event! We won't have to go to all of them, but I bet the kids will LOVE opening the doors and seeing what we could go do."
If there are days for which I don't find any planned events, I can put one of our own traditions, like "make our own wrapping paper with potato stamps" or "cookie decorating party."
I'm so proud of myself right now I can't even tell you.
Saturday, November 21, 2015
Friday, November 13, 2015
Once again it is November, number one on the list of months I wish I could fast-forward through, closely followed by February. Torrential rains have turned the barnyard - as always this time of year - into a sucking swamp. There is still a small pile of hog fuel we could spread, but so far we haven't been able to figure out how to do that without the pig charging out of the yard and into the backyard.
The pig has been able to get out of his pen for months now, and he has rooted up huge clumps of the pasture. He is now about 350 pounds, and that's no joke hurtling towards you at high speed and emitting high-pitched screams at the volume of a Van Halen concert, circa 1984. The pig has a date with destiny, courtesy of our local mobile butcher, in a little over a week, so the problem will work itself out soon enough.
I did make a deal, way back last spring, with a tree service guy to trade cheese all summer in exchange for cedar chips come fall. He has called a couple of times, but we haven't been able to nail down a delivery, and now it is looking more and more doubtful that I will ever receive any chips. That's the risk of trading for future goods. Meanwhile, the mud threatens to come up over my boot-tops.
Haku, our new German Shepherd puppy, has apparently made it his mission to tear my entire house into bite-sized chunks. I would post a picture of our playroom, if I could figure out how under the new operating system, but that would probably bring FEMA down on our heads. Seriously, it looks like - well, like a German Shepherd puppy has torn apart two queen-sized mattresses and one large sofa, not to mention gnawed an antique Victorian dollhouse to matchsticks and knocked over a shelf full of board games, torn up the boxes and ripped up all the cards, etc, and evenly distributed all the chewed-up bits. I figure there's no point in cleaning it all up until he's finished - it might keep him occupied enough to leave a few of our furnishings alone. Why he isn't interested in the fifteen chew-toys I've bought for him I have no idea.
Homero has been suffering greatly this fall from a torn meniscus in his right knee. As a mechanic, he spends a lot of time getting up and down onto a concrete floor, sometimes squatting and sometimes kneeling. His knee will freeze up on him and leave him hobbling back to the house, unable to work for the rest of the day. He hates to take medicine of any kind; apparently he prefers to lay about looking pitiful and asking me to bring him stuff.
I know I sound unsympathetic - and maybe I am. He never reads this blog, so I feel free to say that his knee is nowhere near as bad as mine was - MY meniscus had two big "bucket handle" tears and various smaller tears. My ACL was completely severed (the surgeon who read my MRI report used the word "trashed" to describe the state of my joint). Without health insurance, I had no choice but to live with it for four long years. I did my share of bitching and moaning - I'm not saying I didn't. I'm just saying I know how he feels, and then some. And then some more.
In my case, as soon as the ACA kicked in and we could finally afford health insurance, and the insurance companies couldn't exclude pre-existing conditions, I scheduled surgery and Hallelujah it has been almost a total cure. They had to remove almost all of the meniscus, and I was told that I'd need a total knee replacement sooner or later, but the pain has almost entirely disappeared, and the instability has been reduced by about 75%. The surgery - first surgery I ever had, unless you count wisdom teeth - was a piece of cake. From the time I woke up in the recovery room I was in less pain than I had been the day before. The next day I was walking on the beach.
Homero has been reluctant to schedule surgery. I'm not sure why. He's never had surgery before either - not even wisdom teeth - so maybe he's afraid. I was. But just as everyone told me, the only thing I was sorry about is that I hadn't done it sooner. I guess Homero just had to wait until it got bad enough. He's finally having surgery at the end of this month. I hope it will be as good for him as it was for me.
The first part of December looks to be a nice quiet time. Homero will be recuperating, and I will be taking a break from work. Right now I'm just finishing up a big job that, though it has left me exhausted, will pay enough to ensure a merry christmas and let me take time off to nurse my husband back to health.
Now if it we could just get a nice, hard freeze to lock up all the mud.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
There are all sorts of things I'd like to write about, but I am stymied by my inability to learn the new operating system my husband downloaded last week. Whatever it's called - the Apple of Doom would be my nomination - it crashed our computer repeatedly and forced Homero to spend many hours on the phone to tech support.
Now the basic functions of the computer seem to be up and running - we can, for example, google stuff and use the word processor. The computer is communicating with the printer again which means I can actually go to work. But there are still many areas in which it seems the new operating system is basically incompatible, and one of these is Blogger.
Yes, I am in fact writing a post. I haven't hit "publish" yet so we will see if it works at all. But I can't see what I'm typing (I only know I've made a mistake when autocorrect pops up with a suggestion) and I can't upload photos anymore, because in the new operating system, iPhoto has switched to something just called "photos" and apparently Blogger can't communicate with "Photos."
Which is really a shame because I want to show you all photos of our adorable new dog. When Ivory passed away last spring after 14 wonderful years with us, we were too sad to even think about a new dog. But after some six months, we found ourselves pining for canine companionship. We began searching online for nearby adoptable dogs, but none of them struck our fancy until we saw one who looked so much like Ivory that we collectively gasped.
Sunday, October 4, 2015
It is a maxim of ecology that "wherever there is something to eat, there will be something to eat it." At least I think it is: I may be remembering this line from the excellent novel Dune, uttered by the Imperial Planetologist Dr. Kynes as he lays dying in the deep desert, eyeing the hawks circling above him. In either case, the principle is sound. Anywhere on Earth, when anything dies and falls to the ground, it will get eaten, if only by microbes.
Just as there a chain of organisms on the production side of the food pyramid, beginning with clorophyll containing plants that convert sunlight into sugar and ending with peak predators like lions and humans, so there is a chain of scavengers that reduces the remains of all that dies back into its constituent molecules. Descending from the apex on what we might call the downslope of the food chain, we have large animals like hyenas and vultures, followed by smaller creatures that live on decaying flesh like crabs and ants, and ultimately the myriad microbes that slowly transform the less digestible bits such as bones and hair back into soil. The chemistry of systemic catabolism is just as fascinating as that of the more highly visible and valued systemic metabolism.
|surplus bread soaking in whey leftover from cheesemaking|
I feel that I have firmly joined Team Scavenger. I devote a great deal of time to seeking out resources unnoticed or undervalued by others. In fact, my family largely subsides on my local waste stream. That we live so well and so fatly is a measure of just how rich and bountiful that waste stream is.
|Homero with corn stalks|
|Everybody loves corn|
|Haboob the Buck eating corn|
Any food that we can't use - peels, skins, bones, and the like - or that we end up not eating because there is just too much of it - the lettuce that wilts in the back of my fridge before I can eat it; limp carrots and cucumbers; bread that has gone a little green - we give to our pig and our chickens. They are the second level scavengers, akin to lobsters or beetles.
And when all that refuse has been processed by my animal's digestive systems, we collect it once again and compost it. Enter the microbes. Our compost pile is rich, black, velvety and fragrant. Once a year, in springtime, our next door neighbor comes over in his tractor and collects some of it for his garden beds. Come next summer, some of it will make its way back to us in the form of sweet cilantro, ruby beets, plump squashes.
This time of year, as the world turns towards darkness and winter, I am especially conscious of and especially grateful for the quiet science of recycling that takes place in the sleeping earth. The dark side of the year is the time to contemplate the renewal that happens as we rest, as the dirt rests. So much grace happens in repose, so many vital processes are accomplished only in stillness. We are all of us, at least in this culture, so biased towards the light - toward action, towards growth and vigor, toward Yang, that we are blind to the necessity of decay. The alchemy of decay; of rot, of mold, of the mushroom and the slug. By such humble beings are we sustained, generation after generation.
Hail Yin, hail Kali and Hecate, hail Persephone, Isis, Osiris, Jesus, and all those good Gods and Goddesses who descend into the earth to rise again after three days, or seven, or nine. Hail the seed that goeth into the ground and dies, that it may live.
Monday, September 21, 2015
The little brown blob in the lower left foreground of this picture is a young Jacob's sheep. She is about four or five months old, and wads given to me by my sister in exchange for babysitting her children for a weekend so she could go away with her husband. For the record: I would have babysat in any case, but once offered, I wasn't going to turn down a free sheep.
Jacob's sheep are those funny four (or even six) horned breed. They are an ancient "unimproved" breed, meaning they have not been highly selected for any given trait or developed for commercial purposes. Until recently, they were usually only found in the U.S. among Native American herds in the southwest. Sometimes they are called "churro" sheep.
As such, they vary widely from herd to herd, but in general they are small (a ewe reaches approximately 80-100 pounds) and have good quality wool and lean meat. You can see how small the little ewe looks next to my Nubian goats.
I was afraid my goats would bully her terribly, but it seems not. I brought the lamb home last night and shut her up in the Mama Barn for the night. This morning I went to the Gleaner's Pantry and so I wasn't around when Homero let her out to mingle with the goats. It seems to have gone well, though. This afternoon - a beautiful sunny warm September afternoon - when I let the goats out, I tried to keep the sheep in the pasture because I didn't know how herd able she was. At my sister's house she lived in a small enclosure and nobody ever tried to herd her in an open space.
After twenty minutes or so of enjoyably perusing my magazine while the goats grazed, I heard the sheep bleating plaintively from a direction incompatible with her being inside the pasture fence. The little thing was apparently able to squeezed through the gap between the gate panels and get out onto the front lawn. She simply followed the goats around, any stayed close to them even though the does occasionally butted her in the side.
Our plan is to keep her over the winter - hopefully she will grow well - and then shear her in the spring. Rowan is interested in her wool. Then we will let her fatten a bit on the spring grass before we turn her into lamburgers. Lamb is actually my favorite meat. I never buy it at the store; it has become so terribly expensive lately. I'm looking forward to having some put away for our personal use.
Saturday, September 12, 2015
Although I do a lot of canning, it is almost all water-bath canning. I am afraid of pressure-canning. Basically, water-bath canning is packing food into sterilized jars and immersing them in boiling water to seal the lids. Pressure canning is doing much the same thing, but processing them in a pressure canner, which uses steam raised to temperatures higher than 212 degrees Fahrenheit - the temperature of boiling water. Water bath canning is safe for high acid foods like pickles and salsa or high sugar foods like jam. Anyone desirous of more precise information can find it here.
I've already written a long and informative post on why I seldom use a pressure canner, and it is reproduced at the end of this post, so I won't go into it again here. Here I simply mean to document what I did with these beauties:
HURSDAY, AUGUST 4, 2011
Friday, August 28, 2015
They say it is finally going to rain this weekend. Actually, they said the rain would start last night - and a little bit of rain did fall; I'm not saying it didn't. The porch was wet this morning when I woke up, but there weren't any puddles.
There was just enough rain to make the earth send up a heavenly smell. Petrichor, I hear that smell is called, the smell of rain after a prolonged dry spell, and there is no other smell like it. Once, when my children were small, we were driving across southeastern Washington to my cousin's wedding in Idaho. We were in amongst great green-gold hills covered in tall grass, with hardly a tree in sight. It was midsummer, and there had been no rain for weeks. But now, in the early evening, about an hour before sunset, a great circular blue-black cloud covered a full quadrant of the sky; whirling, dark and angry like a bruise. It was so amazing we stopped to take pictures of it. Then we got back in the car and tried to outrun it, for it looked fearsome.
We didn't outrun it: there was a short, fierce burst of hard warm rain, maybe fifteen minutes, and then it stopped and the sky cleared in time for sunset. The sunset was beautiful, pink and orange on the golden-green hills, and so we stopped at an overlook to get out of the car and watch the sun go down. When we opened the car door, we stepped out into a world of scent such as I have never even imagined. We were in the middle of thousands of acres of grasslands, which had just been drenched with the first rain in ages. It was as if the whole earth opened her lungs and exhaled sweet, blessed relief in our faces. I almost swooned with the beauty of that smell. If, on the day I die, I am granted a foretaste of paradise, it will be that smell that wafts me to the afterworld.
Today, my own fields gave up a similar, much fainter scent, just enough to make me smile with the memory.
If the forecast is right, it will rain much harder tonight, and probably continue through the weekend. I hope so - we certainly need the rain. All the leaves are turning early. We need it here, but much more they need rain in Eastern Washington, where the forest fires rage on unabated. This year has been unlike any other to date, with fires larger and more intense than we have seen in living memory. My mom lost her cabin in Tonasket, and as of today I hear that some 500 primary residences have been burned, and of course three brave firefighters have lost their lives. We are all praying for rain.
Here on the farm, however, impending rain means work. A few days ago, Homero went to pick up a load of hay given to us my some good neighbors. They had baled the standing hay on their new property, only to discover that it wasn't of a quality that their horses could eat. Knowing we had goats, they offered it to us free for the collecting. We thanked them, I brought over some gratitude-cheese, and Homero collected the hay. There were two pick-up loads, each about twenty-five or twenty-eight bales. The first fit into our small barn, but the second had nowhere to go, so it stayed on the back of the truck until today, when the imminent rain made it important to get it under cover of one kind or another.
I suggested putting the hay in the field shelter. It sits in the sacrifice area and normally the ponies use it as shelter, but right now the ponies are in the main field with the goats. If we use that hay first, I reasoned, we might use it up before we have to move the ponies into the sacrifice area in November. Besides, there's nowhere else to put it.
One problem is that the field shelter is fairly rudimentary and has a dirt floor, with a small gap running around the perimeter. The bottom layer of hay would get wet if we put it on the ground. If we had four or five pallets, we could make a platform to keep the hay off the ground, but we don't. What we did have, it occurred to me, it a big old pile of hog-fuel, left by my brother-in-law recently. He has a tree-service company and once in a while, if he happens to have a job nearby that leaves him with a load of chips, he will come by and dump it, much to our benefit. I told Homero I thought that if we spread a four-inch layer of hog fuel down first, the hay would probably stay pretty dry.
So Homero started up his new Case loader (Homero's New Toy (the Craigslist Chronicles)) and I ran for the wheelbarrow. He shoveled hog fuel over the fence into the wheelbarrow, and I trundled it over into the field shelter and dumped it. We repeated this four or five times, and then I kicked it all around a bit and called it good. Homero drove the truck over to the fence line with the hay on it. I thought climbing up onto the back of the truck and tossing bales over the fence would probably be easier than dragging those bales into the field shelter and stacking them, so I told Homero that I'd throw and he'd drag.
"I don't want you to slip," he said. "I'll toss them."
"I'm not going to slip," I said. "What are you talking about?"
"Okay," he said. "Go ahead."
I know I've alluded, several times in the past, to the fact that I am a gimp. Specifically, I have an inherited connective tissue disorder (Ehler's-Danlose syndrome) that leaves me prone to sprains, dislocations, and minor injuries of all sorts. For most of my life, I wasn't aware of this, and simply assumed I was accident-prone and/or ridiculously clumsy. Many people with EDS have it much worse than I do - my specific sitiuation is quite minor compared to what it could be, and I'm grateful for that. However, it is not negligible. Many of my joints are loose and cannot handle the kind of use that I feel they ought to be able to handle.
In this particular case, I wanted to stand on top of a fairly wobbly pile of hay bales, pick them up one by one (they weigh approximately forty to fifty pounds each) and heave them horizontally over a five foot fence. The first time I tried to do this, the bale of hay fell short of the fence, down into the gap between the truck and the fence. I swore. Homero looked at me with a kind of exasperated patience. The next three or four bales went over the fence and Homero picked them up and moved them into the field shelter. Bales five and six fell into the gap again. I swore again.
"Amor," he said, "why don't you let me get this?"
"I want to help," I said angrily, and tried to throw another bale. It fell short.
"Get down from there," he said, "I'm afraid you're going to fall."
"Okay, we can switch," I said. On that last throw, I had felt my knee slip out of position with an ominous pop. It slipped right back in, but on other occasions it has come completely dislocated and if that happened and Homero had to take me to the emergency room, not only would he be proved right but the hay would get wet, too.
We switched places and Homero started tossing bales easily and gracefully over the fence. One by one, I slipped my girly little soft marshmallow hands under the orange twine and lugged them into the field shelter. This part wasn't easy, either. The bales were heavy and spiky, and the twine dug into my palms. It must have looked terribly awkward. I must have looked pathetic, because Homero shortly called out to me.
"Amor, please let me do this by myself."
"I want to help!" I yelled again, sweaty and angry and frustrated with my stupid, fat, weak, defective body.
"Amor, please." he said. "You are wonderful in the kitchen, you are a great cook. This, I can do."
"A good COOK?" I was aghast.
"Yes amor, and you make cheese. I can't make cheese."
"Si, amor. Why don't you go in the house and bring me a beer. Please?"
So this is what it has come to. The little Mujercita is sent into the house to fetch beer while her husband does the real work. I came back with two beers and leaned on the fence and watched Homero carry the bales - one handed! - into the field shelter and stack them. I tried to look on the bright side.
"That was a good idea I had, to spread the hog fuel in the shelter, huh?" I said.
"Yes," Homero answered, "it was."
Earlier in the day, Homero had trimmed the goat's hooves. His hands are so much stronger than mine, he can close the shears through the horniest, toughest hoof wall, which I can't do. But, I reflected, I was the one who taught him how to trim; that the plantar surface has to be even and flat; that you have to trim the bulb of the heel, that you can cut right down until there's no gap, even if you have to cut way up the sides and it looks scary.
Homero is a good milker, but he wouldn't know if one of the does were in the early stages of mastitis. I doubt he would feel the slight warmth, that he would notice the hesitant flow, or feel the tiny flakes in the milk and tiny bumps in the udder. He doesn't know what they need in terms of nutrition, what minerals to buy or how much grain to give. He doesn't know what to do - or might not notice - if they develop diarrhea. He doesn't know the signs of parasites or how to treat them.
I'm the one who can walk the pastures and evaluate the health of them - I know the names of all the weeds and what each one signifies about the health of the earth beneath. I know what each one is good for; I know that Tansy is a vermifuge in moderation but poison in excess. I know the goats eat thistles, but only when they are in bud, as they were two weeks ago. I know that blackberry will increase their milk supply, and that cherry and plum leaves are nutritious in all seasons but this one - the dangerous season of wilt, when the leaves wither but before they are completely dry. Only now are they poisonous.
And Homero is right; I do know how to make cheese. Also I know how to make lacto-fermented pickles and sauerkraut and kim chee. I can make applesauce and jam and dilly-beans. I AM a good cook and I not only that but I have a good working knowledge of nutrition and what my children need to grow and be healthy. I can dry herbs, and I can make them into teas for various ailments. I know how to treat stomach aches and tooth aches and even heart aches. I may not remember everything from my nursing days but I know when a child needs to go to the emergency room and when it can wait until the clinic opens on monday.
I can read stories out loud and do all the voices. I know dozens of lullabies. I am a first-class kisser of boo-boos, even if my kids are too old now for boo-boos. I know how to lay down a fretful child and give her a good dream to go to sleep on, a dream of riding ponies across the wild hills or a dream of swimming with blue dolphins in warm Caribbean waters. When my daughters come to me with womanly problems I will have womanly answers for them, or at least I can have womanly conversations, if there are no answers. I have over the decades tended a small circle of woman-friends who will be aunties and confidants to them; teachers and secret-keepers and surrogate mothers, as I will be to their daughters.
So my muscles aren't what they should be. My body isn't what it should be. My heart is what it should be, mostly. My family is what it should be, mostly. My soul is what it should be, mostly. This place and this time; here, now; all is as it should be. Praise be.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
|view from the top of the ferris wheel|
|my feet, about 6 pm|
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Iris was the first goat on the farm. I bought her in 2007, as soon as I had a fence up and a place to keep livestock out of the rain. We moved in in August or September, and I was determined to have baby goats our first spring; so I advertised for a pregnant doe. I didn't care much about breed, I just cared that she was healthy, and pregnant.
I lucked out. A lady goat farmer nearby answered my ad - she had a young doe pregnant for the first time - a first freshener, as they are called - a Nubian, with a fine pedigree. Registered, tested for all of the local diseases, and guaranteed. Later I found out that this lady farmer actually raised locally famous goats, winners of many prizes at regional and state fairs, and that her animals were extremely well regarded among local goat folks in the know. If I had known that at the time, I suppose I might have sprung for the extra $50 she wanted to give me Iris' papers. But I didn't know that, and I didn't care, because I wasn't thinking in terms of the future monetary value of kids born on the farm. I thought - I'm a homesteader, not a breeder, so what do I care?
However, I didn't know the future, and Iris was quite expensive enough as it was. I paid $350 for her. That struck my husband as a rediculously exorbitant price. And even today, I can say that yes, that's pretty expensive. I routinely sell goats for less than $100. Male goats. Females are usually sold for between $150 and $200. The best price I ever got for a single goat (not pregnant) was $250, for an adorable spotty female kid, who had been disbudded and vaccinated.
That was one of Iris' kids.
Iris, over the years, has produced some 15 kids. I'd have to look at the blog to be certain exactly how many. Some of them were sold for a good price; some of them were eaten as meat; and a couple of them died without producing any value whatsoever. At least one cost us a lot in veterinary bills before he expired. If I average out the value of her kids - not an easy task, considering the calculations involved - I'd guess that each one was worth about $30. All told, her kids were worth about $450.
Now let's talk about milk. It's impossible to set a firm value on a gallon of goat milk. For one thing, I can't sell it. That is highly illegal, and I've never waded into those waters. However, I can say that a gallon of goat milk, if purchased in my local market, is worth approximately $12. I would never BUY a gallon of goat milk on the local market, so I can't really say that it's worth that much to me. I suppose I can call it "fair market value." However, to make calculation easier and to reflect more accurately the realities of my farm, I'll give each gallon of milk a value of $10.
I will not, because the math gets ridiculous, attempt to set any higher value on the cheese I produce. I could easily get lost in the intricacies of attempting to put a reasonable value on my cheese. I have, over the years, traded a pound of cheese for products ranging from a loaf of bread (value: $2?) to three fat dungeoness crabs (value: $50). I've traded cheese for smoked salmon; for cedar chips; for kale; for blueberries; for babysitting; for hay. The best I can say is that goat cheese is a commodity of highly variable worth. Therefore I will just calculate the worth of milk.
Iris is a good milk producer. She is probably above average for a Nubian goat, which is defined here as 1,820 pounds per lactation cycle. 1,820 pounds divided by 8 lbs/gallon = 227.5 gallons a year. Times $10/gallon we arrive at a figure of well over $2,000 per year.
Well, that's a silly number. I can say with absolute certainty that I don't receive anything like that much in concrete benefits per year. Especially when multiplied by the three does I milk most years. However, we do save a great deal of money by not buying any milk, yogurt, or cheese for most of the year. Also, excess milk goes to feed the pigs and the chickens, which in turn saves us money on meat and eggs.
You can see that the worth of a good dairy goat is a hard thing to calculate. Iris has been providing my family with meat in the form of her kids and with milk and cheese for some 8 years now. She has been fertilizing our land with her manure, and providing weed control. She has also provided us with many hours of entertainment, and with affection and joy. Her kids are not simply walking bags of protein, but creatures that jump and play and are absolutely adorable and beautiful. There is simply no way at all to calculate the happiness evident in the face of my youngest child, below, cuddling one of Iris' newborn kids.
I give up. I cannot put a price on a good dairy goat. Here's what I can say for sure: Iris has earned her retirement, and should she never produce another kid or another gallon of milk, we will care for her until she dies of old age.