"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Haku and the Baby Goats ("Shepherd" Indeed)

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Haku is in love with Bunny, the bottle baby. In this photo, he is clearly saying "mine." After several days of close supervision, we now trust him enough to leave him alone with the baby for, oh, up to five minutes at a time. He doesn't want to hurt her; he wants to lick her vigorously and unceasingly. That, however, is not pleasant for a baby goat. She quickly becomes wet and exhausted and needs to be rescued. 

As Bunny gets older and starts to jump and run more, Haku is becoming less trustworthy. I think his prey drive is engaged when the baby zips erratically around. So far, he has not tried to catch a baby with his teeth - only tried to pounce with his paws. But he has had to be scolded off often. I doubt very much if Haku will ever be entirely trustworthy with any livestock. 

Polly, the latest goat to give birth, certainly doesn't think so. Polly bucked the trend by giving birth easily and without drama to twin doelings. They were both large and energetic, standing up and nursing without help. I think my favorite is this pretty little brown and black girl. The girls have named her Ombre, after the way her colors fade into each other. 

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When I brought Haku into the mama barn to meet the new babies, he tried to lick them and kiss them the way he does with the house baby. Mama Polly was having none of it. She got between Haku and the babies, lowered her horns, and made menacing noises (well, what passes for menacing noises when made by a goat). When Haku persisted, Polly gave him her horns. Apparently deeply offended, Haku responded by growling and snapping at Polly - and I instantly hauled him away and scolded him. He needs to understand that the babies are to be safeguarded and that the mamas are absolutely sacrosanct. 

Maybe I am being a little bit unrealistic about Haku's vocabulary. I'd be happy if he just learned "gentle" and "no." 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Beat Up by a Sheep (For the LAST time)

Sometime this past winter, my sister gave us a sheep. A ram, actually. She and her husband raise Jacob's sheep, a heritage breed that is believed to be one of the oldest breeds around. They typically have four horns, and some even have six. They are not large, for sheep. They are a dual purpose breed, bred for meat and wool. They didn't want this particular sheep, my sister explained, "because he is an asshole."
Image result for jacob's sheep
Not ones to look a gift horse (or sheep) in the mouth, we said "thank you," and took him home.
Soon enough, we found out why they didn't want him around. Every time we went into the pasture, he would charge us like a deranged... well.... ram. Although he only weighed about fifty pounds, it still hurt like hell when he bashed into the side of my knee. And he didn't back off when I fought back, either. I took to carrying a stick, and once I hit him hard enough the nose to make him bleed (yes, I felt bad afterwards) but it made no difference to the sheep. He charged regardless.

The obvious solution would have been to kill him immediately, of course, but there were a variety of reasons we didn't do that. Firstly, we thought we could fatten him up. Secondly, the freezer was already full of beef, pork, and salmon. And lastly, Homero just didn't have time, and he is too cheap to let me schedule a professional to do any job he is capable of doing himself.

So we simply lived with the crazy aggressive sheep. I lost track of the number of times he knocked me down, but one instance stands out in my mind. It was mid-winter, and the ground was frozen solid. Over the past few days, it had repeatedly snowed, thawed, and frozen, and so there were a couple inches of ice in the barnyard, with hummocks of frozen dirt and gravel sticking up, and holes here and there as well. Treacherous ground, on which anybody might turn an ankle, irrespective of the need to fight off mentally impaired ovines.

The hose was frozen, so I was filling five gallon buckets directly from the spigot, precariously standing bent over on the ice-slick that surrounded the water pump. The sheep hit me from behind; I never saw him coming. I fell down, of course, and floundered around on the ice, unable to get up. The sheep backed up and charged again. He hit me in the hip, and I sprawled on my belly. I rolled over on my back and wildly flailed my legs trying to fend off his next charge. This ridiculous and humiliating scene went on for some time, until I managed to grab him by the horns and immobilize him. I still couldn't get up, however. My boots slid helplessly on the ice, and I didn't dare let go of the sheep to grab the fence for support. There were a few minutes of detente, the sheep and I frozen in an absurd tableau, catching our breath.

After a while, I managed to stand up, using the sheep himself as support. I lugged him into the barn and somehow closed the door between us. Then I limped back to the house, determined that the sheep had beat me up for the last time. Not so, alas, not so. Over the next few months, the sheep kept me well supplied with bruises. The children could not be sent out to do chores. We more or less lived in fear of this stupid, obstinate animal, himself apparently the victim of an overdeveloped instinct to attack everything that moved.

Recently, the grass finally being grown enough to provide forage, we moved the sheep by himself into the orchard, where he wouldn't interfere with daily chores. This worked fine until yesterday. Yesterday, I took the goats out to browse, and the sight of them moved the sheep to heroic efforts. He escaped, and as soon as he was free, he charged me. This time I saw him coming, and I grabbed him by the horns before he could hurt me. Holding on, I yelled for my husband. While I was waiting for him to run over from the shop, I noticed that one of the ram's four horns was curled back and growing straight into his own skull. As far as I could tell,  it hadn't yet penetrated the flesh, but it was surely uncomfortable, and soon would be downright painful, if it wasn't already. When Homero arrived, I showed him the situation, and said "we have to kill this sheep today."

Luckily, it was a fairly nice afternoon, and so Homero quickly dispatched the ram via a bullet to the back of the head (never the front; the bullet will ricochet off the shelf of thick bone). Within a couple of hours, the evil ram had been reduced to his constituent parts and was fulfilling his ultimate purpose of providing us with tasty protein. According to our personal system of division of labor, Homero deals with the slaughter and the icky parts of skinning, cleaning, and gutting, and delivers the meat to me inside in the form of large hunks - what I believe are called in the trade "primal" cuts - whole legs, shoulder, ribs and belly, back. I take it from there and trim and cut the chunks into reasonable portions as best I can, which isn't all that great since my only education in butchery is a thin book I bought called "home butchery of livestock and game."

The ribs (both sides) went into the oven, slathered with barbecue rub, and cooked on a moderate 325 degrees, covered in tinfoil, for about five hours until they were falling apart tender. That was dinner last night. I broke down the back legs into butt and haunch (I know those aren't the right terms) and packaged four nice roasts for the freezer. Then I took all the rest - shoulder, neck, back - and packed them into my giant tamalero (basically a gigantic spaghetti pot; a steamer) to make broth.

Today I strained the broth, ladled it into gallon ziplock bags for the freezer, and shredded the meat off the bones to be packaged in quart sized ziplock bags in the freezer. Except, of course, for the meat we are using tonight to make tacos de barbacoa de borrego.

Tacos de Borrego:

Make the broth

In a large steamer pot, pack all the mutton pieces (shoulder, neck, ribs, butt, whatever)
1 large onion
1 head garlic, separated
10 chiles guajillo, torn into pieces and seeds shaken out
1 tbsp whole allspice
1/4 cup salt
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns

1 gallon water

cover, seal with foil, and steam 4-6 hours, until meat is falling off the bone

Strain broth and save for another purpose. 
Shred meat off bones and serve on a platter with:

Fresh hot corn tortillas
minced white onion
minced jalapeno peppers
quartered limes
minced cilantro

Raw Green and Cooked red salsa

Green salsa:
10 raw tomatillos, peeled and rinsed
3 serrano chiles
1/2 white onion
blend in blender until fairly smooth

Cooked Red salsa:
10 chiles guajillo, toasted, soaked for 1 hour in boiling water
1/4 cup neutral oil, heated until shimmering
1 tsp whole cumin seed
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Blend soaked chiles, garlic, and vinegar in blender until quite smooth
heat oil in saucepan, add cumin 
pour blended chiles into pan; be careful, it will spit. 
Stir, add salt too taste

To serve:

lay out a platter of steamed shredded mutton, minced vegetables and herbs, quartered limes, hot tortillas, and cubed avocado. Have simple boiled rice on the side. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Happy Easter/Ostara

Easter is my favorite holiday of the year. Perhaps because my family always made a big deal out it, or perhaps because I live in a part of the world that has such long, grey, wet winters that the coming of spring is an event heartily longed for. Or perhaps because when I first started to learn about pre-Christian European religious traditions, my first mind-blowing revelation was that Easter was named after Ostara, the word for the vernal equinox, and that that word in turn was derived from Oestra - a fertility goddess whose name also serves as the root word of "estrus," the fertile portion of the menstrual cycle, or what is commonly called "heat" in animals. 

I have since learned that the etymology is suspect.  See the link for an excellent article about the history of the modern pagan holiday: 

That doesn't really matter to me - as the article states, muddiness or even deliberate fraud in the interpretation of the holiday does not prevent it from
serving as the basis for valid spiritual
practice. If it did, Easter itself would have no validity for the billions of christians in the world, being an appropriated holiday. But be that as it may, Easter has become the high holiday of Christianity, the celebration of the triumph of Jesus over death.

Ostara, or the vernal equinox by any of the thousand names it has held in thousands of human societies over all of human history,  has always been the celebration of the triumph of life over death. It is an eternal constant of life in the high latitudes of this planet that spring follows fall, as certain as it is that day follows night. 

I'm so glad that I grew up in a four season climate. It makes possible the sacred calendar, and that is the basis of my spiritual life. Easter is the real true new year of my soul - no matter what the calendar says. Happy new year! Rejoice in the color, the bloom, the infant life of the year. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Bottle Babies (Happy and Sad)

Bunny, the house goat

Last week, the younger girls and I went to Tucson to visit my dad. While we were gone, two of the does decided to give birth. Does have a sixth sense about the worst possible time to give birth, and that's when they always do it. Not only was I not here to help, but there was a major windstorm going on, too, with gusts up to 65 mph.

The first doe to give birth was our newest, Christmas. She's a first timer. The birth apparently went fine, but nobody noticed until a day (or two?) later. The baby, a single doeling, was dry and fluffy when found, standing up, and had a shriveled umbilical cord, meaning she was at least 24 hours old. She must have nursed on her own. However, Christmas developed a plugged duct or something, and was now showing signs of mastitis - as I surmised from a description of her symptoms over the phone - and was not letting the baby nurse anymore. Baby was going downhill fast, and mama had a lumpy, inflamed udder, which needed immediate attention.

I started spitting out instructions to my poor husband ("Go to the farm store! Buy penicillin! Here's a photo of where to give a goat injections! Milk! Milk! Massage! Massage!"). I called my sister and asked her to come and tube feed the baby, which she did (THANK YOU!!). Sister took the baby home and kept her alive, then handed her off to Rowan who kept her alive for another day, and between them they got her to take a bottle and suck. Meanwhile, Homero gave penicillin shots and milked Christmas, despite her frantic objections, every four hours. It looks like Christmas is going to be fine, and any scarring will be minimal. Hopefully, we won't have another one-teated goat like Flopsy.

Ah, Flopsy. Flops decided to give birth the next day - friday. And unfortunately, when Homero called me, things weren't going to well. There was ONE hoof sticking out of Flopsy's vagina, and nothing else. More frantic instructions. More abject begging, on Facebook this time, to knowledgeable goat people who have experience "going in" and retrieving kids. Thankfully, a wonderful neighbor of mine, who is totally fearless and well experienced, ran right over to help.

But there was bad news. Flopsy was carrying triplets, and two of them were already dead. In fact, from looking at them it was obvious they'd been dead for some time. This is the second year in a row that I've had stillbirths, and I'm going to address the possible causes with the help of my vet as soon as their office opens monday. I know there are several infections that can cause abortions - Chlamydia comes to mind - so I want them all tested. The other possibility is ketosis. Flopsy is quite thin, and the forage is still awful because of the cold wet spring. They have unlimited grass hay, and some grain, but it might not have been enough. It takes a LOT of energy to grow triplets.

Flopsy deciding if will accept the other baby (no)

There was a silver lining though - one of Flopsy's triplets was born alive. A beautiful little spotted doeling. She was very weak, and she needed tube feeding and warming up as well, which my friend very generously provided. After a night of warming and a bellyful of colostrum, she was well enough to stand on her own, so my friend brought her back to mama. And she is doing beautifully, nursing and generally thriving.

I am so grateful to my community! My husband did all he could, and saved the day. My sister and daughter drove all over the county to come and help; and my neighbors came to the rescue. Now I have two gorgeous new doelings instead of none. The only downside is that Bunny, Christmas' baby, will remain a bottle baby. I tried to get her back on her mama, but Christmas wants nothing to do with her. It's too bad, both because bottle babies are a pain in the neck, and also because if Christmas "fails" as a mama on her first try and rejects her baby, she may reject all future babies as well. If that happens, she can still be a good milk goat, but for somebody else. I like my baby goats raised by their own mamas, and out in the barn. Not in the house.

The girls, though, are loving having a house-goat. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

At Last (Spring has Sprung)

The longest, coldest, wettest spring ever is finally happening. Last year, I saw a honeybee six weeks before this date. This year I  haven't seen one yet. It's still quite chilly and the farm is still under three inches of water but the SUN finally made an appearance. Thank god. I thought I was losing the ability to see in colors. 

Went to Hovander Park and saw a few flowers up.  Again - a good six weeks later than last year. Last year at the end of March the tulips were almost done; this year they are still pale green spikes with no hint of flower buds. But the daffodils are beautiful and the hyacinth is beautiful and fragrant. 

I'm not complaining. Not today. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Farmhand Frustration

My oldest daughter, Rowan, moved out last December. She was twenty-two at the time, so I can't really blame her, but we miss her around here. Not only is she simply fun to be around, funny, cheerful, and smart as a whip, but she chucked in a good deal of the hard physical labor around here, and we miss her muscle as well as her wit.

A few years ago, Rowan used to have a boyfriend who I called "P." on the blog. For a while, he lived here, and he paid us rent in labor. P. was (and is) a quality young man, friendly, hardworking, and kind. We all liked him, and we still do, but alas, he is no longer around to be our farmhand. I have to say, I could really get used to having a strong young man in his twenties, with seemingly boundless energy, at my beck and call. It's a good thing for my daughters that the days of selling them to a suitor for a few years of hard labor are over, because I would be SORELY tempted.

Today, Rowan came back for a visit, and she helped us get some work done. It has been raining non-stop, seemingly for months. I know that I am constantly bitching about the weather this time of year (okay, really, when am I not?) but it has, in fact, been an unusually late, wet spring. I've just spent ten minutes trying to add an image, a chart showing triple normal precipitation for February and nearly double for March, but my computer is not being cooperative. See here if you don't believe me.

The farm is more or less underwater. A constant shallow river is pouring out of the driveway and into the roadside ditches. The pastures are more puddle than grass. And the sacrifice area - where all the animals still are - is a disgusting swamp of mud and poop. My poor goats are so desperately unhappy. Goats hate the wet. I finally told Homero that he simply HAD to muck out the barn (recently vacated by the pigs, who have been processed) so the goats can get out of the mud and slime. They are pregnant, poor things. This afternoon, he and Rowan spent a few hours mucking, laying down lime, and then spreading a bed of straw in the barn. The goats have been transferred. They look very happy to be dry. They are going to have to live in the barn itself, however, because we have not yet been able to fix the gate that closes in the main pasture. We need to set a new post in cement, and we can't do that until it dries out a bit.

Remaining in the sacrifice area are Rosy Pony and Nettles the Cow. There is not enough room for them in the barn with the goats, so they are going to have to deal with it a while longer. They have a field shelter, which keeps the rain from falling on their heads, but which does nothing to keep the wet from seeping in from underneath. Even under the roof of the shelter, the ground is soggy and poopy and gross. It needed bedding.

We do, in fact, have a ton of hog fuel, thanks to my brother-in-law and his tree service. Whenever he has a job nearby, he will stop here and dump the chips. Maybe fifteen yards are piled up alongside the fence.  But there is no good way to move to around. Homero's Case loader is broken (it's normal state of being; the Case has basically replaced the Murray lawnmower as his personal mechanical nemesis). We have a big, deep black rubber wheelbarrow, but its tires are flat and it is in the playroom full of a bunch of Homero's heavy power tools. No good way to spread any hog fuel, other than plain old fashioned elbow grease.

Rowan and I spent a half hour or so in the driving rain this afternoon, expending aforementioned elbow-grease laying down a layer of chips in the field shelter. I filled five gallon buckets with chips and passed them over the fence, and she trudged through the mud to the field shelter and dumped the chips inside, kicking them around to cover the space evenly. It was a stop---gap measure, to be sure, but at least the cow and pony will sleep dry tonight.

I need to find a farmhand. I was never very strong, but nowadays I can not even make a pretense of being able to do things like muck out deep litter. Last week, Homero and I cut apart the old calf--hutch that was ruined and ripped by windstorms, and I was at least able to help him drag the big awkward pieces of plastic through the field. That was tough. I cannot spread fifteen yards of hogfuel, or turn the compost pile, or mix cement. We need regular, if sporadic, help for that sort of thing, as well as for placing cattle panels, turning the compost pile, making dump runs, planting trees, et cetera.

Yesterday I placed a plea for help in a Facebook farmer's group. I gave a description of what I needed, and offered $15/hour plus transportation, tools, and lunch. I have had several responses, and a couple of them even come recommended. Here's hoping one of these young people works out.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Rerun (Spring Work List)

I've been re-reading the blog, something I haven't done in several years, and this evening I was amused to read the following list of work that needed to be done in March of 2015. The list is virtually identical to the lost I would write if I were to write a list about the work that needs to be done right now - so please enjoy this throwback.

March 23, 2015

There is so much work piled up around the farm that I figured I had better make a list. Not that I'm likely to forget what needs doing, since it's mostly all of the variety that you SEE when you LOOK AROUND, but even so. Lists are helpful. Helpful in putting off the actual work.

Since the weather turned about two weeks ago, we seem to have regressed back into late winter. After a sunny, dry February, we have been not-so-much enjoying a cold, wet March. It's back to mud boots and puddles, and I am feeling smugly superior to all those people who gave into temptation and planted their garden a month ago, only to watch it all rot in the ground. I can afford to feel superior, because I have been those people, every year except this one.

Mud boots and slickers; gloves and hats are once again required gear for venturing out. So, most of the outdoor work has to wait for a dry spell, but here we go, in no particular order:

1. muck out the barn. The animals don't like the rain, so they spend all day in the barn, which means it quickly gets disgusting. I ran out of straw a week ago (subheading

                 a) get more straw

    and so the barn floor is a thick compressed four inches of poop and old straw. It will soon be too                 compacted for me to move, so either I do it soon, or add it to Homero's list of chores, which is far longer than my own.

2.  Repair chicken coop. This is actually a fairly small job, although difficult for me as it involves climbing onto a roof. We just need to pick up the shattered remains of the plastic corrugated roofing (blew apart in a windstorm) and replace with corrugated tin roofing - already bought and stored right in the coop itself. Without a roof, the coop is just a swamp and the chickens have been roosting in the hayloft. Which means I have to convince a child to climb the ladder into the loft to gather eggs about once a week. I no longer climb into the loft. Not until we get a better ladder, anyway.

3. Dump run of historic proportions.  Homero recently cleaned out his shop. In a big way. In addition to removing the enormous stack of wood and building materials that are all that is left of our cute little cabin (story for another day), he also removed approximately 7,000 hefty bags worth of trash and assorted refuse, much of which is stuff we stored in the shop when we lived in Mexico a couple years ago (NewtoMexicanLife.blogspot.com) and never brought back into the house. Mostly books and clothes, but more than likely a few valuable items like photos and journals are also now mouldering in the rain alongside the fence, which is where the 7,000 hefty bags are resting, awaiting their final transport to that great refuse heap in the sky. Or, you know, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 
4. Strawberry Patch - as mentioned above, I have done almost nothing in the garden this year so far. I have some starts going in the greenhouse, but no work has been done outside. A few days ago, a good friend gave me a trash-bag full of strawberry starts, and I would like to get them into the ground soon.  My garden space is slowly undergoing a transformation from a regular mostly-annuals kitchen garden into a perennial garden, full of raspberry canes, rhubarb, artichokes, asparagus beds (soon), and strawberries. Hopefully the rain will let up soon and we can get the strawberries into the ground.

5. Hoof trimming. Seems like it's always hoof-trimming time.

6. House projects - this is really Homero's purview, but my part of this work is to keep a running tab on what needs to be done; to budget for it; to gently remonstrate with Homero, and to prioritize. I'm not even going to go into that list here (plumbing projects, rot-repair, weatherstripping repair, etc) but just say that this list takes a psychic toll on me because I usually eventually have to threaten to call professionals and try to balance the relative importance of marital harmony against, oh, say, a working shower.

7. Fencing. I still have most of the cattle panels I bought last fall when we had some cash. We did the cheap and dirty thing by just using some of them to patch droopy spots in the field fencing. One of the larger projects that awaits drier days in actually removing and re-positioning all the cattle panels so as to make a real, continuous fenceline.

That's enough for now. Right at the moment, my regular daily work awaits - I need to move the ponies, milk the goat, and make dinner.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Meat Math 2017

This year's horrible pigs (all pigs are horrible but this year's were worse than most) have been converted into meat, and the meat sold, except for what we wanted to keep for ourselves. It's time for this year's edition of MEAT MATH (Meat Math).

The pigs were pretty small. We killed them earlier than we maybe should have because they were so evil, and also because in the cold and wet, they weren't gaining weight very quickly. It's better to get piglets in the spring than in the fall, but of course everybody knows that, and so spring piglets are more expensive than fall piglets. The boy had a hanging weight of 132lbs, and the gilt 110lbs.

The larger pig we sold off in halves. One half went to our neighbor, the D. family, from whom we have actually bought pork in years past. But they decided (being quicker learners than we are, apparently) that they don't want to raise pigs anymore, so now they are buying from us. That half weighed 67lbs. The other half went to a Facebook friend, and weighed 65lbs.

We asked $3/lb, which is on the cheap side. I started out at $3.50/lb, which seems to be the going rate for pork without fancy qualifiers like Organic or Pastured, but it so happened that there was a lot of pork for sale at the same time I was trying to sell, at least according to Craigslist. I didn't get any response at $3.50/lb.

If I'd had an empty freezer, I might have held out. But I'd already made the date with the butcher, and our freezer was stuffed nigh to bursting with beef, salmon, and lamb. We have two eminently butcher-able animals (a sheep and a goat) that we have let live for the sole reason that we were saving room in the freezer for the pork. Faced with that severe space shortage, I lowered the price, and quickly sold off the bigger pig.

Okay, so 132 x $3 = $396. Rounding to $400.

The piglets themselves cost us $100 each. That leaves $200.

Feed was negligible, thanks to unlimited bread and produce from the Gleaner's Pantry ( What Wrong With this Avocado?). We did buy three or four bags of conventional pig feed - let's say that was $60. Now we have $140 left.

Unfortunately, I lost my receipt from the butcher, so I can't break it down into categories, but we paid them $178 for our 110lbs, which includes the kill fee, the cut and wrap, and the fee for smoking the hams, bacon, and hocks. Take 178 from 140 and we are 38 dollars in the hole. Divide 38 by 110 and you get homestead pork for $0.35/lb. Not, obviously, counting labor.

Even if I am forgetting a couple bags of feed, that's some pretty cheap, quality protein. The first meal I made was BBQ spareribs. Delicious.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Spring Cleaning, Part One

A beautiful day in earliest spring, notwithstanding a stiff, cold breeze and two inches of new snow on the ground when we woke up. Now, in mid-afternoon, the sun is warm and bright and the sky is very blue. The snow was all gone by the time I got home from church. I felt like getting some work done around the place.

First things first. It was clearly past time to take down my winter altar and put up the early spring altar. Ordinarily I would do this around Imbolc, but it so happened this year that there were two feet of snow on the ground at Imbolc, and it did not feel at all like the season of emerging had yet come. I left up my storm trees, and then I sort of forgot about it until today.

I can't put up a new altar until I've cleaned the old altar, and as I was preparing to do that, I looked around and saw how awful the whole house was. Really, a clean altar needs a clean room. And one clean room in a dirty house is just a sham. So I started cleaning. I put on a disc of old time Boogie Woogie piano music and scrubbed and swept and opened all the windows. I can't say the house is actually CLEAN clean, but I got it clean enough lay a new altar. The cool wind blowing in through the open windows did as much or more as I did to freshen the place up.

Then I went out to the barnyard. The goats are due to kid within three weeks or so - I think; I'd better check the blog for when they were bred - and the Mama barn is a mess. Paloma came out with me and we stuffed all the empty feed bags full of trash - empty plastic bags, mainly. I bring home so much bread from the gleaner's pantry that the bags really pile up. Also many many yards of orange plastic baling twine. We've gone through a hundred bales of hay this winter, so there are at least two hundred strings. Paloma is braiding some of them into a string leash for Haku. We will also reuse some of it tying up the cattle panels where they are sagging. But there always seem to be a surplus of orange strings, getting into the compost pile or buried beneath the bedding, sometimes a loop sticking treacherously up to snag a passing ankle. Pulling it out when it is well and deeply embedded in old bedding is a chore.

Taking another empty feed bag with me, I walked the soggy pasture to pick up more trash - more bags that have blown away and gotten strung up on the fences, or entangled in blackberry bushes. Long shards of corrugated plastic that were once part of the roof on the chicken coop, and which were shredded in windstorms and blown away.We re-roofed the chicken coop with corrugated tin, but it, too, has been crumpled and shredded by the wind, and is now curled up in long strips and makes a fearful racket on days like today. I don't know what we will do next for the coop roof. I think it needs an actual framed roof. However, as there are no longer any chickens (except three skinny roosters) it is academic. I don't know if I mentioned that the chickens have all either disappeared or been caught and eaten by our horrible pigs.

The horrible pigs are dead. The butcher came friday. We will keep the meat from the smaller one, and the bigger one has been sold off in halves. I am very very glad they are gone. No more pigs for the foreseeable future.

There is still a great deal of cleanup and repair to do before it gets much later in the season. One of the gateposts to the main pasture rotted through, and half of the gate fell down. We haven't replaced it yet, because its been so wet and awful, and the animals are still eating hay in the sacrifice area anyway. But it needs to be repaired before we can let the animals out to graze, obviously. The calf hutch, which we have had for about eight years, finally - yes, you guessed it - blew away in a windstorm. It had a few cracks in it already, but now it is a twisted wreck washed up against the back fence line. Theres no way I can move it, that will require Homero and another man.

No sign yet of nettles or daffodils. There are some pale green spikes sticking out of the ground near the highway, though. I think I will go take a look at the willow out by Homero's shop and see if there are any pussies (?) on it yet. If so, I will cut a few wands for the altar.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Snowpocalypse 2017

This is the west side of my house. See the snow up to the ROOF? Admittedly, this is a drift. But anytime there is snow up to the roof, that's a lot of snow. We probably have about two feet of snow, if it were evenly distributed. And it's still coming down hard. I'm sitting at the kitchen table, and looking out across the street at the neighbor's 100 acre field, and there are snow tornados, I shit you not, snow tornados out there. 

 Haku is loving it. He's so happy. He almost disappears into the drifts, but he's having ball.

I like it too, truth be told (and as long as I don't have to do chores in it). It's exciting, and just the tiniest bit scary. But we have a freezer full of food, and a tank full of propane, and a generator, and nothing can hurt us.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Doing Chores in Winter Wonderland (Too Old for this Shit)

It is snowing. It is snowing sideways. It has been snowing sideways for the better part of four days. There is a foot and a half of snow on the ground and more is coming down every minute. Some of the drifts are three feet high. All the sliding glass doors are iced shut. School has been cancelled again, and the children are stir-crazy.

I feel like Gene Wilder in the old version of Charlie and the The Chocolate Factory - just picture me with my hair standing up and my eyes bugging out as I intone, in a voice that slowly rises to a shriek, "It is snowing, snowing, SNOWING... and it shows no sign of SLOWING... there's no earthly way of KNOWING... just how long it will keep GOING...."

I am old as dirt. I am rickety and fat and I have a nasty head cold. My knees sound like a bowl of rice krispies even just walking around indoors. I am getting too old for this shit. I just went out to feed the animals, and what is ordinarily a ten minute job is a half an hour slog, beginning with putting on my socks - not as easy as it used to be - and carefully stepping into one gum boot, and then the other, holding on to the wall because my balance ain't what it used to be either. Then I have to pick up the five gallon bucket full of slops for the pigs (kept inside the playroom so it doesn't freeze) and there's no handle on this bucket so I have to hug it with one arm and try to open the sliding glass door with the other while my giant, idiot dog leaps around me like a deranged jack in the box.

On the sixty-yard walk to the barn, I had to set the bucket down to rest three times. I am more out of breath than usual, due to the aforementioned nasty cold. The snow is heavy and has an icy crust on it. Haku runs lightly over the crust, but I break through and sink up to my knees with every step. I haven't put on a hat and my hair is whipping around, blinding me. The snow hits my face hard enough to sting, flying at me sideways from the north-east. Finally I make it to the field shelter, where Haku is leaping up against the fence, barking at the ram. The ram is charging the fence over and over again. I yell at Haku and he runs off to bother the pigs. I throw the goats and the pony and the ram two loaves of bread and then give the pigs the slop bucket.

There are very few chickens left. The chicken coop came unroofed in the last storm and we haven't been able to fix it yet. The chickens took to roosting in the main barn, but thats where the pigs are - and the pigs caught and ate several chickens. Horrifying. I've never had a pig do that before (although once a pig chased a mama hen off her nest and ate up the day-old chicks). We are down to three chickens. Some of the others have just disappeared. Hopefully, they have found their way over to the neighbors, who has a nice, cozy coop, and integrated themselves into his flock. We are going to have to address the chicken-attrition at some point, but not today.

The hose is frozen, so I am watering with buckets. I can't lift a full five gallon bucket over the fence, so I have to fill it halfway and pour it into the trough over the fence and repeat several times. There is an ice slick around the water pump. On my third or fourth trip I slip on it and crash, landing heavily on my hip and - though I don't notice this until later - cutting my arm on the sharp crust of snow. In my slippery gumboots, it takes me several tries to stand up.

The last job is getting hay for the pony and goats. I grab an armload of hay from the mama barn and trudge towards the field shelter, eyes closed as much as possible to keep out the flying bits of hay. I am in a whirlwind of snow and hay particles. I really ought to go into the sacrifice area and put the hay inside the field shelter, but I can't open the gate because it is stuck inside a frozen drift of snow two feet high. So I heave my armload of snow over the fence and at least a third of it flies right back at me. "Fuck it," I think, "They'll live until tomorrow."

My dog has disappeared. He's white, therefore pretty well camouflaged. I yell for him all the way back to the house, and then stand there yelling until he finally comes prancing through the curtain of snow into visibility. By the time we both make it into the house, I am exhausted.

Days like this I want to give up. I want to just throw my hands up and say "it was a good run, eight years of farming, it's time to retire." But of course I don't really want to do that. The goats are pregnant and in a few months all will be green grass and flowers and baby goats. I'll be milking and making cheese and loving life.

Besides, I can't give up. We need this farm now like never before! Our new commander in chief is determined to start a trade war with Mexico (among other countries) and they provide forty percent of our winter fruits and vegetables. If the Trumpster succeeds in antagonizing all our major trade partners, it won't be long before we all feel the results in the price of food. And that's just the beginning. I think the possibility of something awful happening to economy - like hyperinflation maybe - within the next several years is not out of the question. It could get pretty Mad Max around here before too long. I'm putting in a much bigger garden this year, and planting more fruit trees. Homero has taken his sustainability projects up a notch as well.

So there's no rest on the horizon. I better start taking care of my knees - maybe I can schedule surgery on my other knee while I still have health insurance. Inshallah.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Peace and Birdwatching

Image result for backyard birds pacific northwest

There was controversy surrounding our christmas tree this year (O (Dead) Christmas Tree); a controversy that resulted in us having two trees - one cut and decorated inside the house, and one live and potted outside the house.

The small live tree that Rowan and I decorated with pine cones (smeared in peanut butter and rolled in birdseed) has provided us with many hours of entertainment watching the birds who came to eat. Homero set it up right outside the kitchen window, where we could see it as we drank our coffee in the mornings. The freezing weather may have brought extra birds to our feeder. It's been very cold and snowy since before Christmas. Quite unusual.

I am not much of a birdwatcher, but Rowan says that among the visitors were spotted towhees and various kinds of chickadees. I can recognize the black capped chickadees. There was a tiny brownish grey bird with a yellow belly. Some sort of finch? It was surprisingly delightful to see the little birds up close, scrabbling with each other and picking at the pinecones. There were several mated pairs, bright males and drab females, who reappeared again and again. You could almost fancy that it was possible to identify individuals.

The cut tree is still in the living room, but we have undecorated it. It really ought to be hauled out for the goats to eat before it gets any drier. The goats need all the food they can get - they are all (presumably) pregnant now, and the cold has been unrelenting and unusually severe. For a week or so, I put fleece vests on them to help keep them warm, while the mercury was hovering in the low teens. We try to keep hay available at all times, but in the severe cold they eat twice as much as usual. And of course, the dairy calf eats as much as three or four goats all by herself.

We are running out of hay. We've already been through eighty bales, which, in a mild winter will carry us through until early spring. Luckily, we still have thirty bales "on hold" with the family who took Poppy pony from us. I didn't ask for any money for Poppy, no "rehoming fee" or anything like that. I was just happy to have found an excellent home for her. But they offered to give us thirty bales of hay in trade, and I didn't say no. They also offered us the use of their Nubian buck for stud this year, and I took them up on that as well. Homero will have to go get the thirty bales pretty quickly - I think we are down to three bales left in the mama barn.

This is a quiet time of year. The goats and the cow huddle up and chew their cud. The chickens stay up in the hayloft for most of the short day. About the only excitement is provided by the occasional escape of the pigs. They are getting big enough to stand uno and put their front feet on top of the barn's half-door, and I think once in a while they slide the catch open more or less by pure chance. Then there's a merry chase to get them back in again.

As for me, I am enjoying the freeze, because it means a respite from the mud.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

O (Dead) Christmas Tree

Christmas, the 800 pound gorilla of holidays, is once again upon us. Every year, I envy my childless brother, who insouciantly flaunts on his own blog how free he is to blithely ignore Christmas. Oh, he enjoys the vacation time, which allows him to spend his disposable income gallivanting about the globe (most recently Taiwan) instead of spending it on a lot of plastic crap, designed to satisfy the outsized expectations of  a bunch of self-absorbed human pupae for exactly six-point-eight minutes.

What? Am I not exhibiting the correct cheerful demeanor?

I do, in fact, enjoy Christmas. I do, in fact, spend a lot of time planning activities that I think my kids would enjoy. I peruse my local paper and jot down the dates of Christmassy events - for the past two years I have made an advent calendar of events, complete with paper doors for them to open every evening and read the event planned for the next day. It might be a local concert or it might be hanging  christmas lights at home. My community is very civic minded and there are a goodly number of really cool holiday events - when those are lacking I plan home based activities such as baking gingerbread cookies or making christmas cards to mail out to relatives and friends.

One of the very biggest events in any Christmas season, obviously, is buying and decorating the tree. I'm not going to google at this time of night, but you and I both know that probably 99% of Christmas trees sold in this country are cut trees - read: dead trees. There is an argument to be had about the environmental impact of the christmas tree industry - some people maintain that the carbon sequestered by the growing of all those trees is greater than the carbon released by their harvest. I don't know about that - but I can say for certain that buying and planting a live tree is better than buying a cut tree.

That is what we did every year that I remember, growing up. Never in my memory did my mother buy a cut tree. We were lucky to always live in a private home on a suburban lot that allowed for the planting of at least one tree a year.  For many years after we moved away, my mom would take us driving back through old neighborhoods, and point out the trees we had planted years before. She would name the trees as she pointed them out: "Look, there's your brother's blue spruce. That one is your weeping pine."

During the years that I lived in a house on an urban lot on Seattle - from 1992 to 2006- we never had a Christmas tree. Since I didn't have space to plant a live tree, I chose to not have a tree at all. Instead, we made gingerbread houses, or I bought long sheets of green butcher paper and we cut out a simulated tree and taped it to the wall and decorated it with glitter glue and potato stamps. Moving to our current homestead, a windswept 5 acre property that could really use many more trees, was happy for many reasons, but not least for the chance to have a live Christmas tree every year and plant it the following spring.  I sited an area on the west side of the property that I planned to fill with Christmas trees, slowly. When my children were grown, if we kept cup the custom, we would have a Christmas tree grove for them to inhabit and imbue with meaning.

We have planted some five Christmas trees since we moved here. Many more fruit trees; but they don't come into this story. We re-used a few Christmas trees because they have become very expensive in recent years. And one of the trees we planted died, covered in blackberry vines and smothered by canary grass. But there are still five live trees, and there is still a lot of space to plant future trees. I have a vision of a lovely, full grown grove of evergreens on the western border of our land, home to native birds and mammals.

The day that the advent calendar said "buy a Christmas tree" was a day that I was working all day long. I asked Homero to please take the girls and get a tree. I told him in simple language to buy a LIVE tree. I didn't think it was terribly important thing to emphasize - after all, we had had live trees in each of the last five years. But knowing that Homero is - how shall i put this? CHEAP - I made it quite clear that I knew a live tree would be expensive, but that that was simply a fact of Christmas.

I'm not entirely certain  I have managed to describe how important it is to me not to have a cut tree. Do you, gentle reader, understand? If not, let me fill you in on a few details that my husband was already aware of. As well as attending a Christian church, I consider myself a pagan, a follower of the western and northern European pre-christian traditions. Trees are the very basis of the sacred calendar in this tradition. My oldest daughter, Rowan, was named for the sacred tree that presides over her birth month. She is a practicing witch. Trees - living trees - are the foundation of the knowledge of the Wiccan tradition. Having a dead, cut tree in our home would be, quite literally, sacrilege.

So my husband bought a cut tree. He took the kids, while I was at work, and drove around town, and decided that the live trees were too expensive. By the time he communicated to me what he had done, it was a fait accompli.  The dead tree was already installed in our living room.

Oh I was so upset. We were talking by text: I said "I am bringing home a live tree anyway! You just bought the goats lunch!"  Rowan and I both felt righteously indignant. We felt that our beliefs had been trampled and slighted. We felt that an atrocity (albeit a small one) had been committed in our name. We felt a burning need to remedy the situation. However, the prospect of dragging the dead tree out of the living room (a prospect I considered) seemed too drastic. That would only make me into a Savonarola, a crazy zealot, an extremist. Much better that I attempt to model flexibility and adaptability.

On my way home, I bought a small live tree. I was driving a volkswagen golf - I had to find something that would fit in the trunk. I ended up with a five foot tall arborvitae. I also bought a bag of large pinecones, and a sack of birdseed. At home, Rowan and I smeared the pinecones with peanut butter, and then rolled them in dishes of birdseed. We tucked the cones into the branches of the small live tree, which Homero set up right outside the kitchen window. That was his gesture of reconciliation, arranging a sturdy base for our live tree. This past week, we have enjoyed watching spotted towhees and black capped chickadees eating the seeds from the tree.

And in the living room, a lovely cut evergreen is decorated with lights and homemade ornaments. I am trying to look at it with appreciation and joy. It will feed the goats, after the twenty-fifth. I hope that those whose say that the tree sequestered more carbon dioxide in its life than it will give up in it's decomposition are right. I hope that during it's life it provided shelter and sustenance to many small creatures. I hope that the life of this tree amounted to something lasting. In the meantime, we will honor it's life by appreciating the beauty of its adorned branches.

Happy Solstice. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Winter Stores (First World Problems)

I feel pretty good about the state of the larder going into winter this year. I had a very successful canning season and as you can see, my indoor pantry is pretty well stocked.

 I think I have about twenty quarts of tomato sauces, half Mexican and half Italian flavors. I use these for all sorts of basic applications - cooking Mexican rice; simmering chicken thighs; dressing pasta. My tomato preserves are part of the hardworking, everyday dinner rotation. If I could can three times as many, I'd use three times as many. 

Other canned goods in the pantry include pickled jalapeños (also a staple); bread and butter pickles (more likely an ingredient or a gift); pepper jelly (Christmas gifts); and blackberry jam (destined for use in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches all school year long). 

There are six or eight small jars of cajeta (goat's milk caramel) left over from 2015. Not sure what to do with those. Maybe send them out as Christmas gifts, or maybe open them and start using as coffee sweetener and pancake topping. 
In the "Christmas gift" category, I still plan to can some small jars of lemon curd , which is delicious and can also be made from ingredients I get from the gleaner's pantry. 

Besides home canned goods, the indoor pantry is pretty well stocked with store bought dry goods. There's a case of canned black beans, ditto garbanzos;
A twenty pound sack of white rice and a ten pound sack of brown rice. Five gallons of dried pinto beans. Ten pounds of lentils. A case of canned tuna. A shelf full of condiments like soy sauce and vinegars and Thai curry paste and mustard. 

The freezer is crammed full. We bought a lot of beef this year, and then there was an amazing bounty of frozen fish from the gleaner's a few weeks ago. The freezer is so full that we have put off butchering the
young wether goat because there is simply no place to put him. Ditto a half a dozen young roosters we were recently gifted. They are alive simply because we don't have the space for their carcasses. 

This is the definition of a first-world problem. "I have so much food that there's no place to store it all!" I don't enjoy just basic food security - I enjoy layers of food security. I have ready to cook food staples in my pantry, AND a bunch of live on-the-hoof protein that I could call on if the need arose. I'm rich beyond the dreams of previous generations. 

Thanks be for all the abundance in my local food-shed. Lady of abundance, help me make the maximum use of all that comes my way and to be generous and open-handed. Let all this abundance serve the greatest number possible. Let it
Inspire me - and all those who have similar abundance - to invite others into their homes and to sit at their tables. Let it be a medium of friendship. Let us all break bread together. Amen. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Short Hiatus

Forgive me that I haven't written a new blog post in a couple of weeks. I've been too busy reeling around in horror and exploring the limits of my capacity for shock. 

The election results left me profoundly flabbergasted. I have to admit what now seems to me to be an extreme naïveté: never during the campaign season, not once, did I ever seriously contemplate the possibility that the citizens of this great country would elect a man so ignorant, so self-serving, so incompetent, and so boorish - not to mention bigoted, misogynistic, and disrespectful of the basic tenets of democracy. 

After spending a couple of days blubbering incoherently, I went into action mode. In the last ten days, I have organized an event for local folk who want to take concrete action to fight back against the alarming rise of hate speech and intimidation. I'm calling it the "Peaceful Progressive's Potluck," and I'm
hosting it at my house after thanksgiving. I'm promoting it through a new Facebook group a friend created called "whatcom rising." 

Here's what I'm hoping for: firstly, that a whole bunch of good hearted people who haven't met before can come together over good food and a few drinks and have a good time. It is so important not to give in to despair and pessimism. In times like these, just having fun can be a subversive act. 

Secondly, I hope that everyone who comes will bring an idea. I'm thinking of this event as a brainstorming session - please share your personal passions. Are you passionate about farmworker rights? Do you burn with zeal when it comes to protecting women's access to reproductive health care? What are you already involved in? So many of us are asking ourselves "what could I be doing right now?" Tell us about the great organizations and local opportunities that already exist. Let's make a list. Let's organize carpools to faraway events, let's have phone-your-representative brunches. 

But most importantly, I want to marshall the power of friendship. I'm thinking about studies that show how effective it is, in maintaining a fitness regimen (for example) to have friends who hold you accountable. I want to create a community of friends who hold each other accountable. I want us to pledge (maybe formally, in some sort of small ceremony) to keep encouraging each other, chivvying each other, even pressuring each other to keep fighting the good fight. 

I did something very scary this past Sunday. It shouldn't have been scary, but it was. I stood up in church and made a little speech about what I think it means to "love our neighbor as ourselves." I said I don't know what that phrase means, if it doesn't mean to shelter my neighbor, to protect him from those who revile him, to defend his children as though they were my own children. That doesn't seem like a controversial statement, but my congregation has enough Trump supporters who could decode the message that it felt risky to me. My voice trembled as I spoke. 

I envision a community of neighbors who will uphold each other and cheer each other on as they take on the kind of small but real risks that speaking out entails. Standing UP means standing OUT, and that's scary. So much scarier if we feel we are standing alone. So much easier if we know there is a community of friends who has got our back. 

Wherever you live, whatever your politics are - I'm talking to you rock-ribbed republicans here - please stand up and clearly state that you will not tolerate hate and discrimination. ESPECIALLY you republicans. Combat the general impression that being a conservative means you want to deprive women, immigrants, and people of color of their civil rights and their guarantee of due process and equality under the law. Make
it be known that espousing conservative values does not mean you want to cause suffering among vulnerable populations. 

Or does it? Convince me. Please.