"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Scrumptious Scraps

I don't have any work appointments today, so it's "get stuff done" day. Although it's a gorgeous day outside, the inside of the house is what needs attention. I've already washed the dishes, done the laundry, cleaned the kitchen (okay, half-cleaned), and gone grocery shopping. Grocery shopping means I have to clean out the fridge and make use of the older produce to make room for the new. 

After throwing all the really old produce into the piggy bucket - we will have happy piggies later today - here's what I was left with:

A whole lot of cilantro

 a head of organic purple cabbage and a fair number of carrots. Not pictured, several Serrano chiles and a half a head of garlic. 

Looks like a good day to make a few ferments. I will make cilantro chutney by blending the cilantro with the chiles, a white onion, a knob of ginger, and a heaping teaspoon of salt. That will go in the fridge and be available as a fresh dressing for anything vaguely Indian. I have leftover mashed potatoes so maybe I'll make samosas tonight. 

The carrots and cabbage will, of course, become sauerkraut. It's a little unusual to have such a high ratio of carrot to cabbage, but I'm sure it will taste fine. I will just grate the carrots on the largest holes of a box grater, shred the cabbage as thinly as possible, and toss with 2% salt by weight (which I estimate). pack into large glass or ceramic jar, pound down firmly until the natural liquid covers the vegetables. Put something on top to keep all veggies submerged - I use a plastic bag and a glass weight. 

At room temperature - about 67 these days - the kraut will take several days to get nice and tangy on the countertop. After that it keeps indefinitely in the fridge. 

Friday, May 7, 2021

Animals Behaving Badly (Escapes and Attacks)

We had an exciting morning around here. It started off nicely enough; I was sitting at the kitchen table around nine am having coffee with my husband, and we were enjoying the fact that our children are now in high school and get themselves off to school without even waking us up. The sun was out and it looked like it was going to be a nice day. 

Then our neighbor called. 

"Your cow and the pigs, they are over here on my side of the fence," he said. So we jumped up from the table, ran around looking for ropes (to lead the cow) and stale bread (to entice the pigs) and headed outside. The animals were indeed just on the other side of the fence, on the east side, near the orchard. Luckily, there is a cattle panel on that side that is just attached with carabiners, which we had done in order to let our neighbor come through on his tractor and pick up compost for his garden. So it was fairly easy to open the fence and chase the animals back in through the gap. Except for the Kune Kune pig, who had apparently decided he wanted to run away and join the circus. 

I assumed we had a breach in the fenceline somewhere along the eastern side of the property. Pigs will test fences and push cattle panels up off the ground and go under,  or detach them from the t-posts if, as is there case at our house, they are but loosely affixed with baling twine. So once the animals were all back in the main pasture, Homero grabbed some zip ties and got on the ATV to inspect the fences, and I went back inside to finish my coffee and peruse Facebook. 

Where I saw this:

Shame!! Shame and embarrassment! Animal escapes are always entertaining unless they are your animals. It's bad enough that people know my animals were out, but the fact that they were actually wandering along the state highway was worse. Tanker trucks blast by at 60 MPH and we live on top of a hill with a very short sight distance. Only blind luck prevented a terrifying accident. Oh well - all's well that ends well, and at least somebody driving along got a giggle out of it. As it turns out, there was no breach in the fenceline (although we do need to do some maintenance). The chain holding the main gate shut had broken. Probably secondary to a couple of big pigs pushing on it. 

Then, when I went back out to feed everyone, the black rooster attacked me noiselessly from behind and gouged two good sized holes into my thigh, right through my skirt. I never saw him coming. It was like being hit by a very small meteor. He's always been a vicious bird. I think I'll have Homero wring his neck and make a fan out of his very beautiful, glossy black evil feathers. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

First Fire (Carne Asada)

Built a fire this afternoon and had a carne asada, just for us. It’s still cold, but the sun was bright and tempting. I just took the oven rack out to the fire pit and laid it over the coals. Nopales and spring onions, tasajo, and a bit of fresh chorizo. I whizzed up a quick raw tomatillo salsa in the blender, heated up tortillas, and brought out the quesillo I made last week. 


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Yard work (Before and After)

This past week, the first week in April, has had typically schizophrenic weather. Bright sunny days alternate with gloomy, freezing days - and the occasional hailstorm thrown  in for fun. 

Last night there was a windstorm that blew frigid air into the house under the doors and -seemingly- right through the windows. But this morning dawned bright and clear, and warm enough that I felt like working outside.  It was cold, but not so cold that a few minutes with a hoe wouldn’t warm me up. 

The farm is a mess. I mean, it’s always a mess, kind of, but in early spring the accumulated detritus of winter really stands out. There’s work to do anywhere I rest my eyes. Today I decided to spend the day doing something about it. 
Turns out, “a day” for me means about four hours, and that right leisurely. Nonetheless, I did manage to make a noticeable difference. 

I cleaned up two small garden beds, each about two by ten feet. I dug out the buttercup and the grass roots, raked, and brought over fresh compost from the pile. I had a few plants in pots I wanted to get into the ground, so in one bed I planted a sage plant and some lemon thyme, and in the other I sowed scarlet runner beans. 

The trampoline has been overrun with blackberries over the last few years. It took me a solid hour with a pair of pruning shears and a pair of gardening gloves (not thick enough - need leather) to get it cleaned up. 

The cut blackberry vines went over the fence into the hot yard, where the goats were very happy to see them. There are still blackberries growing underneath, but I can’t get at those without loving the entire trampoline, which is staked down against the wind. That will have to wait. 

I did a good enough job for Paloma, anyway. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Notes from the Year of the Pandemic (Spring Equinox, 2021)


So far, spring this year is cold. There was a week of warm sun sometime in early March - there usually is - that tempted me to start shoveling some dirt into a wheelbarrow and laying down cardboard in the garden, but it was only a tease, and the frost returned as expected. I knew it would, of course, even as I stood on top of the compost pile in my shirtsleeves, shovel in hand. I'm slow but I do learn. 

The awareness that the warmth on my shoulders was the product of a small, false spring didn't matter. When the sun shines in March in the far Pacific Northwest, and you live on a farm, you get outside and you pick up a shovel with as much thought as worms have as they come to the surface when the ground thaws, as much as chickens who start to lay when the days lengthen, even though the eggs may freeze in the nest boxes overnight. After a Northwest winter, especially this last one which threatened to draw a final dark curtain across so many lives, you take your lumens while you may. Get out in that thin wind and squint, and take off your coat, and shiver, and give thanks.

It was a bad winter. In so many ways. Last spring, when the pandemic was just ramping up and we didn't know how long it would last, we made jokes about lockdown lasting a whole month, and we distracted ourselves with the rites and tasks of spring on the farm. I took up an old habit and carried a sketchbook around the property, drawing leaves and bugs and chickens. Like everyone else, I put in a big garden. I bought mountains of craft supplies for the girls and we all planned the ways we would enjoy ourselves and better ourselves and learn things and have fun together during this time of enforced togetherness. We were optimistic, if not about the course of the pandemic then about the possibility of our own growth and development during it. Like healthy people everywhere, undamaged people, people who know not what lies ahead, we embraced the imagined challenge of joy in adversity.

And I'm not saying none of it happened. We did stuff. The craft supplies were used to make crafts. I taught the kids to play cribbage and rummy. We took to going hiking on Sundays as a family and discovered beautiful places we'd never gone before. The garden did pretty well and many vegetables were fermented, and many loaves of sourdough were baked (yeast being in short supply). The farm produced, as it does every summer, a crop of beauty and fun in the form of baby goats and baby chicks and, this year, baby guinea hens. For months, the work of the day was sufficient thereunto, and we were more or less content. 

Then fall came, and school did not start. Life refused to return to anything approaching normal. Milestones passed uncelebrated. The new systems that were hastily constructed to replace the old, now-impossible ways of doing things were confusing and inadequate. We were all sick of the sight of each other. The stress of waiting to get sick was making us sick. The uncertainty -the total, global uncertainty - was wearing us all down. Would Hope be able to apply to colleges? Would school sports ever happen? Would we ever be able to have a birthday party? Would ANYTHING ever be NORMAL again? Time seemed more meaningless by the week, and I stopped updating the altar or looking forward to seasonal celebrations. 

It was especially hard to keep our spirits up after the string of disasters among the animals. The problem of multiple drug-resistant parasites with my goats has gotten worse and worse, and my veterinarian has basically thrown up his hands. First baby Stormy died, then Flopsy. Trying to medicate Lilac - out of desperation, as all the medications we have tried have utterly failed - the plunger slipped in my hand and I accidentally gave her a fatal overdose. This was especially awful, as Lilac was young and healthy and I expected her to be the star of the next generation of milkers. Polly and Christmas are looking thin and unthrifty and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. All I can do is keep them all contained in the sacrifice area, where there is nothing to eat, and feed them (presumably parasite free) hay. I am terrified I will simply have to watch them all die slowly, one after another. I can't sell any babies, should there be any, because I can't ethically export these awful worms to other farms. Paloma is not even looking forward to baby goats this year, after she fell in love with Stormy last year and lost him so soon.

An entire clutch of newly hatched chicks drowned in a waterer. 

Thirteen out of fourteen baby guinea hens failed to survive. They just disappeared one by one over a few days, and by the time we could catch the mother and remaining babies there was only one left. 

Gucci, Hope's beloved ferret, got tumors in the belly and had to be put down.

Turning our attention away from the farm to the outside world was little solace; the news was full of death, disaster, riot, war, idiocy, and fear. Fall was scary and long and dark and cold, and it often felt like the whole damn world was going straight down the shitter. The election was a bright spot of blessed relief, but the period between November 3 and January 20 was nerve-wracking.  Every day threatened rampage and disruption on a scale unimagined in my lifetime.

Now I've just been sitting here staring at the screen for five minutes. Then what? Then it was winter. We lived through it. It was not so awful for us, really, not compared to so many others. We had work. We didn't get Covid until January, and when we did it wasn't so bad, thank God. Homero's oxygen dipped down to 89 a few times and that was scary, but they put him on prednisone and gave him an inhaler and he was fine. I had awful chills and couldn't stay warm. I would shiver and my teeth would chatter while submerged in a hot bath. But it only lasted about ten days and we have almost totally recovered. I get winded quickly, that's all. Everyone should be so lucky.

There was a pretty good snowfall in February - 18 inches or so, enough to entirely transform the landscape and bring a welcome intermission from the tedium of rain and mud. My kids no longer play in the snow much, being in their high teenage years, but the dogs do. 

I don't know what I'm going to do next. Im staring down the barrel of empty-nest-hood. Hope did apply to colleges, and she will go away next fall, to one or another of them. Paloma is only two years behind her. Sports did start, and both girls have evening practice most nights. They have jobs on the weekends. They  drive. They kiss me and say "goodbye, mom!" and go see their friends.  I cook too much food, and nobody eats it. Well, the pigs do. 

Will nothing be normal ever again? No, it will not. Not for me. Normal is little girls blowing dandelion clocks on the lawn; normal is shiny baby goats bouncing across the field. Normal is reading bedtime stories. Normal is being able to make it all better with a kiss, and having answers to all their questions, or at least them believing I do. Normal is a memory now.

It is the equinox today. Winter is passing away and Spring is on the verge of emerging. The year of the pandemic - godwilling - is over, but I cannot see what is coming next. Like the planet, I am balanced on the knife edge of a new season. Be gentle with me, spring. I'm getting old and I'm slow, but I learn if you give me enough time. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

Goodbye to a Great Goat (The End of an Era)


    Iris gives the girls an early sex ed lesson, farm style

My first goat was Iris, a beautiful Nubian about a year and a half old, a first freshener. I bought a pregnant goat because I absolutely couldn’t wait another year for babies. 

Iris (short for Arcoíris, which means rainbow in Spanish) was a very fancy registered purebred from a farm with lots of grand champions to their credit. I really didn’t care about that, I just loved spotted Nubians. But breeding will out, and Iris turned out to be a truly outstanding goat in almost every way. 

The kids she threw were gorgeous, year after year. She almost never needed any assistance, and was a very good mom. She had a beautiful udder, easy to milk, and gave about a gallon of delicious sweet milk a day. She stood for milking, too, and jumped on the stand without fuss. Her hooves were good. She was seldom sick. But most of all, she was smart. 

Iris was one of the few goats that obviously knew her name. She could unlatch gates, be they barred or closed with a hook and eye. We had to use carabiners to keep her out of the feed shed. The undisputed herd queen, she led the herd for a good ten years, remembering which trees on the property fruited in which season and where to find the best new shoots and flowering twigs. She was affectionate and loving. Iris was a wonderful animal and a friend. 

Iris was fifteen this year, which is very very old for a dairy goat. As she got old, the worms which plague every dairy goat started getting the best of her, and she became very thin and frail. No matter how much grain and alfalfa we fed her, she kept losing weight. The other goats began to bully her, and knock her down. 

When we found her out in the field, knocked over and unable to stand up, we knew it was time. In fact if the truth be known I probably waited too long. She was suffering; I just didn’t want to say goodbye. After I brought out the girls to say goodbye, and after I stroked her and fed her some grain out of my palm, and after I shed a few tears, Homero went and got the gun and that was that. 

Iris, beautiful spirit, thank you for all the happiness you brought into my life. Thank you for for sharing your grace and your beauty with us. Thank you for the adorable kids you birthed. Thank you for your milk, which nourished our bodies and nourished my mind too, as I learned to make cheese and grew in my craft. Thank you for being a good goat. I loved you. 

                                   Herd Queen 

A girl and her goat in happier times. 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Still Here (Midwinter)

Soon, I promise - promise myself - I will sit down and write a long update. Two months have passed since my last post, and so much has happened I hardly know where to start. Great changes both on our farm and in the outside world. A few of them good (adios, worst president in history! Hello, personal recovery!) but many of them terrible and dispiriting. 

Meanwhile, here is the new, post-Christmas midwinter altar. Usually this is a dark, rather frightening altar, with my Hecate icon or the storm tree paintings. But this year I don’t want anything gloomy. I swept the altar bare of all the Christmas gewgaws and glitter and place only three items. A silvery money plant, a garland of dried orange slices that Hope made, and my sleepy beast-man. 

The sleepy man is a ceramic figure I found in a thrift store many years ago. I love his gentle face, his whiskers, his strange paws, between which he holds a flower, and the generous mantle he is wrapped in. When I put him on the altar I think of peaceful hibernation, rest and restoration, and sweet dreams. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Samhain Season Altar

I’ve neglected my altar for many moons. Not for any particular reason - life just rushes in and gets in the way. Like everyone else’s, our family has been preoccupied by dealing with life in the Covid era. The new school year has been difficult so far. Distance learning is not going well, and it’s been exceedingly frustrating. We aren’t in lockdown, but there are still strict rules about how many people outside your own household you can see per week and how restaurants can operate and so on and so forth. It’s all exhausting. 

Last week I finally cleaned and purified the altar - and used way too much copal. The whole house filled up with resinous, fragrant smoke. I just used my turkey feather wafter to waft it all around, smudging the house basically, and then opened all the windows and doors wide and let the cool breeze finish the job. 

(Altar tools: the turkey feather fan is for wafting smoke, smudging an area. The pampas grass wand is for doing a limpia of a person - brushing their aura, for lack of a better term)

Except for lining up some squash, however, I left the altar empty. I just wasn’t inspired to decorate it. It wasn’t quite Samhain season, not quite time for the day of the dead altar, and too late to dress it for Mabon. So it stayed empty and clean for a week. 

Today my oldest daughter Rowan was visiting, and Hope asked if we could all dress the altar together. She found an altar cloth (a crocheted shawl I had just given her for her birthday) and we all chose seasonal items to place, either from the yard or from my collection of altar pieces I keep on a shelf in the kitchen. It only took about fifteen minutes and was a really nice group activity. 

The picture of the whole altar doesn’t show details, so here are a few of our seasonal items. Shed antlers, decorated with rose hips. Reminds me of a seasonal crown on Cernunnos, although he isn’t really a deity I have dealings with. 

Pomegranates, of course, are a beautiful and appropriate decoration for an autumn altar. Persephone is sinking into Hades right now, to meet her husband and take on her aspect as queen of the dead. The black corn I brought back from Oaxaca, and is there simply for its beauty. The skull shot glass has apple cider in it, for visitors. And that tattered crocheted animal is a representation of the Black Rabbit of Inlé (What? You haven’t read Watership Down? Go start it right now). 

This altar will probably stay up through the day of the dead, and we will add to it as the day approaches. We will out up photos of our dearly departed, and add flowers and fruits and sweet breads. On the day itself, we will make a big batch of hot cocoa, light a fire, and sit around the altar eating and drinking and telling stories of our ancestors and beloved dead. 

The house feels so much more homey with an altar laid. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Gourd Or Gargoyle?

Every year, somewhere on the property, there will grow a volunteer squash plant. Usually the compost pile, of course. This year, one grew up through some cracks in the concrete pad behind the house that I believe was meant as a place to park an RV. Though the cracks were small, the plant was large, and entirely covered the concrete pad by mid-July. 

Volunteer squash are unpredictable. Their fruit might be anything from boring old round pumpkiny type things to enormous warty colorful gourds like the ones we got this year. The vine grew three of them, each about two feet tall. I gave one to a friend and placed the others as autumn sentinels on our beautiful new porch. 

Last year’s volunteer squash plant, in contrast, produced dozens and dozens of tiny hard shelled pumpkins. They made a cool October altar. 

What most volunteer squash will NOT be is palatable. Grocery store zucchini, crook necks, and other common varieties are all hybrids, and so plants that grow from their seeds will revert back to one of the (usually useless) parent types. However, they are often beautiful. 

And no matter what the fruit is like, all squash plants have delicious blossoms. This year’s volunteer vine provided us with plenty of squash blossoms for tucking into quesadillas or dropping into chicken soup. 

And now it is dying back. I wonder what next year’s volunteer squash plant will look like? 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

It’s Pear Time!

We had a bit of a windstorm a couple days ago, and as usual, it knocked a bunch of pears off the trees. Went out and collected some today - just some - and here’s the result. 

On the left - pears that need to be dealt with NOW or never. Mostly Comice pears - my favorites. They are buttery and delicious and dependably ripen off the tree. There are approximately twenty perfectly ripe pears on that platter, which will be past-perfect tomorrow. 

On the left, a humongous bowl of unripe pears. These blew down off the other two peat trees - I can’t remember their varieties - and every year I am perplexed by their stubborn refusal to ripen. I’ve tried various things - closing them up in a box with some ripe pears or with a banana, and it doesn’t help. I’ve tried putting them in the refrigerator drawer because I have read that some pears won’t ripen without chilling. Nada. They just stay hard like greenish brown rocks until they eventually begin to rot. Someday I will unlock the secret if these pears, but this year I’m going to try cooking them and see what happens. 

But what to do with the ripe pears today? We can probably eat six of them out of hand. Or I could make a pie. Pear pie is delicious. There’s always the dehydrator. Or, of course, pear sauce. But my kids don't usually eat a lot applesauce or pear sauce, and it tends to just sit on the pantry shelf for years. Plus, there’s a severe shortage of canning jars at the moment. 

Maybe I’ll give them away. That’ll probably work! 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Preserving Log (Late Summer 2020)

I’ve been on an absolute tear in the kitchen the last two weeks. Late August/early September is the middle harvest season (Mabon is coming right up), the prime harvest season around here. Here’s a list of what I’ve done lately - as far as I can remember. 

Today the girls and I pressed about ten gallons of cider, from the apples you see above. My friend H. down the way has a dozen apple trees and was only too happy to let us pick some. Tomorrow I will bring her some cider. 

Cidering is hard work. Picking the apples, carrying the crates, washing the apples, hauling the press out and cleaning it, bending down and standing up approximately 7000 times, pressing the buckets, pulling the tight-packed plate back out of the buckets, carrying the apple mast to the compost. It’s messy too, with little bits of apples flying everywhere and juice on everything. By the end I was so sweaty and sticky and tired! Working outdoors in this horrible smoke isn’t a lot of fun, either. But this was the first time we’ve pressed cider in a couple years and overall it’s a great experience. 

The smaller of my two carboys, three gallons, will be made into hard cider, and we’re keeping the rest sweet. I threw two gallons into the freezer, which leaves us about six gallons to get through before it turns into tepache. Not that there’s anything wrong with tepache. 

Plums. This in an on-year for the Italian plum tree, and there are hundreds and hundreds of plums. I’ve dehydrated enough to fill a gallon ziploc bag - more plums than you probably think - and the dehydrator is full of plums right now too. 

I’m taking another swing at plum wine. My past efforts have been drinkable, not fantastic.  Probably I won’t get any better unless I buy a little more equipment - like a hydrometer - and start taking recipes more seriously. But hey - there are so many plums. How far wrong can you go? Right now there’s about two gallons in a primary fermenting chamber and I’ll pitch the yeast tomorrow. I have to go buy another carboy because all of mine are currently full of apple cider. 

One of Homero’s clients brought him an enormous side of  salmon as a tip. I cut it into five approximately 1 1/2 lb pieces, and we ate one fresh and then I smoked the others. One of the smoked pieces is in the fridge to snack on and the others are vacuum sealed and will keep in the fridge for a few months. Probably not until Christmas though, sadly. Smoked salmon is my favorite thing to send friends and family as a Christmas gift. I could throw them in the freezer but I’m not sure how well the texture would hold up. 

Let’s see, what else? Oh, I canned six quarts of salsa ranchera  this week with tomatoes from gleaners. But I’m not doing a lot of canning for the simple reason that I can’t find canning lids anywhere! Apparently canning lids are the toilet paper of this phase of the pandemic. I have one package of small mouth lids left. 

A couple days ago I hit my favorite local farm stands just to see what was available. I brought home some sweet corn (which we ate), some cherry tomatoes (ditto), five pounds of green beans, and three smallish kohlrabi. I started kimchee with the kohlrabi. Earlier this summer I made a batch of kohlrabi kimchee and it was the BOMB. It’s only about a quart, but we will enjoy it. 

I’ll have to decide if I want to use the last of my canning lids to make canned dilly beans with the green beans, or if I will lacto-ferment them like kosher dill pickles. Both ways are good. 

I haven’t even started in the pears. Good lord, the pears! WHY did I plant FOUR pear trees? 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Memorial Painting

My memorial painting of Paloma with her sweet, deceased pet baby goat Stormy. I’m not a good painter by any means - in fact at some point during every attempt at painting I am convinced I am the worst painter in all of North America and I want to set my painting on fire and then set myself on fire as well. But my merit as a painter - or lack thereof - is distinctly secondary to any comfort I might be able to bring to my baby girl. 

I hope she likes this painting, and I hope she chooses to put it up in her room and I hope it brings her a little bit of relief from grief. But even if not, making it was good exercise for me. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Hope Springs Eternal (More Babies)


Just a few days ago, we lost six baby chicks to drowning in the water trough. It was a tough reminder that babies need a special environment, even when the mama hen is raising them herself. They need a warm, dry place for mama to care for them, and they need a very shallow watering dish, no more than 1" deep. They also need grit, oyster shell, and high protein food. They need to have shelter that is devoid of crevasses where they can get lost (another way we have lost chicks - fallen down in between hay bales) and they need a roof to protect them from hawks and eagles. Mama hens do their best, but they are neither very smart, very fierce, nor very dextrous. I hate to imagine (but of course I have imagined) the distress of the mama hen unable to help her babies out of the water trough. 

For the last several weeks - not sure exactly how long - we have been aware that the Mama Guinea hen was sitting on a nest somewhere in the pasture. She disappeared, and for a week or so we were afraid she had been eaten by something, but she made several brief appearances over the following month. She would show up in the barnyard, snarf down some food, and quickly scuttle off back into the weeds. Homero wanted to try to find the nest, but I forbade him, because I read that Guinea hens will abandon a nest if you discover it. 

Yesterday morning when I went out to milk, I saw she was back with her husband. Then I heard some peeping, and sure enough, she was surrounded by a flock of tiny chicks. They were quick, and they stayed huddled together in a pretty solid mass, and Mama stayed on top of them for the most part, but I could tell there were a lot of them. I couldn't get close enough to count them, because Papa Guinea was very protective and he charged me, feathers a-fluff, when I approached. As best I can tell, there are about a dozen. 

I'm not going to try to do anything. If I discover another set of surprise baby chickens, I will scoop them and the mama hen up and put them in the rabbit hutch, but I'm going to assume that the mated pair of Guinea hens can raise their own young better than I can. It's delightful to see Papa Guinea so solicitous and proud. Roosters don't give a goddamn about their offspring, but Guinea Cocks apparently do.

What we are going to do with a score or so Guinea hens, though... that is another question. Google says they taste like pheasant. Guess we will find out. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Death and Disaster (Bad Farmer, Good Grief?)

A few days ago, Paloma told me something seemed to be wrong with Stormy, her extra-special pet baby goat, the surprise baby that Flopsy popped out at the end of May. 

He’s always been small, and not growing as well as the others, but I attributed that to the fact that his mama was extremely elderly and thin while she was pregnant with him. I expected he would stay small, but had no reason to think he wouldn’t be healthy. But there was clearly something wrong right now. The day before, he has been keeping up with  the herd, but now he laid down on the ground, and was grinding his teeth, which is how goats express pain. 

We took him to the vet - even though it was Sunday. The vet took some blood and a stool sample, and when those came back, told us he had a very heavy load of stomach worms and was severely anemic. He was so anemic, in fact, that the vet said he had only a 50/50 chance of making it through the next 24 hours. 

We were shocked. I knew the goats had worms - the goats ALWAYS have worms. Worms are pretty much impossible to eradicate, especially if they are resistant to medications, as mine are. But we had no idea the situation was this serious. several of my mama goats are quite thin, and they have intermittent diarrhea, and I knew it was time to worm them again, but nobody seemed on the point of death or anything like that. 

We went home with subcutaneous fluids for him, to be administered every four hours, and with three different medications, each with their own schedule. The vet told us to coop him up tight with his mamma so he wouldn’t expend any excess energy. We did that, but when we went and checked on him at 10 pm, he seemed cold, so we brought him in the house and wrapped him up. Paloma slept with him on the couch. 

Despite everything we did, he died at about 6 am. Paloma was devastated, inconsolable. Ever since she was a tiny child, every goat she picked out to be her special pet has died. Stormy was the third. The first died of a urinary calculus, a not uncommon problem in wethers. The second ate rhododendron and died of poisoning. And now this. 

I don’t blame Paloma if she’s angry at me. Controlling parasites is difficult, as I’ve said, but I haven’t been as diligent as I should have been. I didn’t want to spend that kind of money - individual fecal flotations on every goat three or four times a year adds up quickly to several hundred dollars - and the best practices are incredibly hard or imposible to implement. Several months ago when I had a vet out we went over worm control measures, and I just didn’t see how they were feasible. We would need to invest thousands of dollars into fencing to create five or six pastures for rotation, and mow all the pastures every two weeks over the summer so that the eggs would be exposed to the ultraviolet light of the sun. The pastures are full of embedded rocks and pieces of concrete and such that it makes them impossible to mow with standard equipment. 

I asked “what if I took all the goats off the pasture entirely, kept them in a sacrifice area and fed them hay? How long would it take for the eggs to die off and to have a clean slate again?” 

Five years. 


In other words, you can’t. 

The only thing I can do is do more fecals, and treat the symptomatic goats on a schedule. And make sure they have the highest quality feed and minerals so they have the nutrition they need to fight off worms.  So that’s where we are. That’s what I’m committed to doing. 

We buried Stormy under the plum tree. Now just about every significant tree on the property has a beloved animal buried under it. Ivory is under the pink dogwood. Dorian and Vladimir are under the pear tree. Now Stormy is under the plum. Paloma is still pining, a week later. 

Then today, I went out to feed the animals and found that all six of the surprise new baby chicks has drowned in the water trough. All fucking six of them. All of them. All of them. 

I can’t bring myself to tell Paloma. 

I feel like such a negligent failure. I KNOW baby chicks drown in water troughs. I should have scooped up the mama
with her babies as soon as we found them and transported her to the rabbit hutch to raise them in a safe place. But I didn’t and now they’re all dead. 

Sometimes I don’t know why I’m doing this. Sometimes farming just feels like one heartbreak after another.  Sometimes it’s very hard to imagine the upside. 

I have to believe that the joy of living close to the land, immersed in the specific nature of our homestead is a concrete good for the soul. I have to believe that forming loving bonds with individual animals, caring for them, and delighting in their grace and beauty is good for us. I even believe that grief is good for us. I do. 

Joseph Campbell, talking about Greek tragedy, wrote “the world, as we know it, as we have seen it, yields but one ending: death, disintegration, dismemberment, and the crucifixion of our heart with the passing of the forms that we have loved.” which is undeniably true. Yet, he was not a pessimist or a melancholy man. On the contrary, he believed that we should strive to align our hearts and our perspectives with the eternal, divine animating principle that gives rise to the forms that we love. If we can do this, we will be peaceful, able to participate in the joy of infinite creation, which does not die with any one form but which goes on playfully creating more and more forever. 

This, however, is not an idea to be expressed to a grieving child at 6 am after a long, terrible, sleepless night. So I was incredibly grateful for my older daughter, Hope, who remembered this part of the FFA creed, which both she and Paloma memorized at school, and spoke it out loud as a kind of benediction: 

I believe that to live and work on a good farm, or to be engaged in other agricultural pursuits, is pleasant as well as challenging; for I know the joys and discomforts of agricultural life and hold an inborn fondness for those associations which, even in hours of discouragement, I cannot deny.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Miracle Milk (Goats are Great)

A neighbor of mine, S., recently had her first grandchild. Her daughter gave birth to a beautiful little boy. Although everything seemed fine at first, the baby wasn’t growing well. He had nearly constant colic, and wasn’t gaining weight the way the doctor wanted to see, even though he was nursing well. After trying several other things, the doctor suggested it might be something in mom’s diet, and suggested going off dairy entirely. 

Well, my neighbor owns a dairy. They are an old fashioned family-owned dairy, the likes of which have nearly disappeared. They own a hundred or so Holsteins, which are milked twice a day, and the dairy truck comes by daily to take away the milk. The family simply siphons off fresh unpasteurized milk from their refrigerated tank for their own use. “Going off dairy” was a serious proposition for someone raised on a dairy farm and used to fresh raw milk with every meal. Mom tried, but couldn’t give up milk for her coffee. The baby didn’t materially improve, and mom decided as a last ditch effort, she would seek out goat’s milk for her coffee and see if that made a difference. 

An aside - people who have trouble with milk and milk products might have any one of a number of different things going on. The most common is lactose intolerance. That is an inability to digest lactose (milk sugar) because of deficiency of the enzyme needed to break it apart. That enzyme is called lactase. All infant mammals produce it, but all non-human mammals, and many human mammals, cease to produce it after the age of weaning. If you don’t produce lactase, you will not be able to digest any milk, from whatever source. 

However, other people produce plenty of lactase but are intolerant to the protein in cow’s milk. They might be truly allergic to that protein, or they might just have an “intolerance,” meaning it causes them indigestion. If the milk PROTEIN is the problem, as opposed to the milk SUGAR, then one might very well be able to tolerate goat’s milk but not cow’s milk. The protein molecule of cow’s milk is about 100 times larger than that of human milk; the goat’s milk protein molecule much more closely resembles that of human milk. 

Back to the main story - my neighbor approached me and asked if I would be interested in trading goats milk for cows milk, just to see if it made a difference to her grandbaby. Of course I said yes. Two weeks later, my neighbor called me and said that the goat’s milk was a miracle, that she had been skeptical that anything in mom’s diet was the issue but she couldn’t argue with the results. Baby’s colic had nearly disappeared and he had gained significant weight. When I went to her house to trade more milk, she gave me a huge hug. 

In the course of my job (medical interpreter) I spend a lot of time just chatting with people while we sit in tiny exam rooms waiting for the doctor to arrive. One of the ways I pass the time is talking about my farm. Many of my clients grew up in very rural situations and this gives them a chance to reminisce and often we connect talking about caring for animals, kitchen wisdom and lore. 

No fewer than three people - all of them very elderly now - have told me that they were raised on goat’s milk from early infancy. One old gentleman told me how he was adopted when his mother died in childbirth and that he was fed goat milk from the first day of his life. When he told me the story he said “a nanny goat was my mother.” The other two were not quite so effusive, but they both told me that formula just wasn’t a thing that was available in the tiny ranchitos where they lived, and if there wasn’t a wet nurse available, then goat’s milk was considered the next best thing for newborns. 

In our area, there are a lot of immigrants from Russia and Ukraine. Some of them that are friends of ours have also expressed an almost magical belief in the power of raw goat’s milk to promote health and vigor. One Ukrainian friend of my mom’s drove up from Seattle - 100 miles - every week to get goat’s milk for his small daughter. 

Personally I have no strong feelings one way or the other about goat’s vs cow’s milk, not even about pasteurized vs raw milk (though I do think people ought to be allowed to buy and sell raw milk). I like goat’s milk. I LOVE goat cheese. If there is any magic in it, I tend to think it derives not from an inherent quality of the milk, but from the fact that it is a product of our own homestead. 

This place, this earth, grew the grass that nourished the goats. My hands cared for them and doctored them, birthed them and milked them. My eyes delighted in their grace and cavorting. My mind learned to use the milk to make cheese. My spirit birthed the longing to create this place and called all of it into being. Together my family made a home here that supports the goats, and they in turn support us. We have a beautiful circle going on here. 

The circle is the magic.