Saturday, March 28, 2009

The School of Life is a Hard One

Our nubian goat mama, Quizzy, died last night.

Thursday morning Rachel went out to the barn to check on goats and found two not too newborn babies in the barn. They belonged to Quizzy, a little girl and boy. Rachel and Maggie saw the afterbirth. Babies were healthy. Quizzy was very hungry and thirsty. All appeared to be just fine.

Last year Quizzy had troubles with an engorged udder. Same thing this time. Her udder was so large it seemed like it blocked off the milk from flowing through the teats. Apparently this happens occasionally with very high-producing milkers. Her very giftedness of having an udder bursting full of milk seemed to prevent her babies from ever being able to get a full tummy. Nothing would flow.

Rachel massaged and tried hot compresses. We had the babies nurse, trying to relieve pressure. We gave her herbs. We fed hungry babies bottles so they wouldn't get so weak they couldn't suckle. Other than the udder problem, everything seemed just fine.

Yesterday Quizzy seemed like she was coming down with mastitis, an infection in the udder. We figured that was not so out of the ordinary and started antibiotics to clear it up. No other indications of problem till early afternoon. Maggie went out to check on her and give the babies their every 3 hour feeding. She came in the house and told me that it seemed like Quizzy was trying to push and have contractions, and Maggie wondered if there were still another baby inside.

You see, goats still look pretty pregnant even for a day or so, even after the babies are out. It takes a week to regain their slim figures. We assumed that her slighty enlarged tummy was normal. As the afternoon progressed she started to swell. Quizzy was not able to stand up and seemed to be getting weak. We decided that this problem must be much bigger than an engorged udder.

Of course we found this out right as I had to head to town for something. When I got back, I scrubbed up and steeled myself to make an internal investigation. The smell was horrid. Death. I asked Maggie to get me a bandana with something sprayed on it that smelled good. Gulped fresh air. Scrubbed up again, got on new gloves, tried again. At this point, Quizzy could not stand up. We turned her over onto her other side and palpitated her swollen abdomen. Now we were able to feel what appeared to be limbs. Still and dead.

The cervix had gone back up inside Quizzy. It was not open even 2 cms. I couldn't get past it to get to the baby to get it out. My friend Donna J. at Brambleberry Farm suggested that lutylase would be the only thing that might help, but you have to get it from a vet. It is a drug that stimulates contractions and is used when trying to get placenta expelled. We figured that there was no chance of getting some of that, especially on a Friday night.

I called a few other friends with goats to see if there were any other things we might try. Kirsten, at Arcadia Farms answered her phone. She had lutylase left over from a goat with troubles earlier in the year. Of course she would share. We got in cars and drove to the Fincastle Courthouse to meet halfway. By the time I got home Quizzy was dead. The infection had spread to her body and she couldn't fight it off anymore.

Maggie and I cried. We said our goodbyes. We gathered up trembling cold hungry babies and brought them to the house to sleep in the dogloo with a warm water bottle.

Maybe we could have done a few things differently. If I had observed the birth, maybe I would have known that something was wrong. Maybe if she hadn't struggled with the engorged udder we would have known that signs of infection were from another problem, not mastitis. Maybe if I hadn't gone to take care of business in town and had stayed and gotten lutylase in the afternoon we could have saved her.

Maybe not.

As it is, we learned a lot of things that will help us know what to look for in future birthings. We learned that it is good to call all your goat friends when you don't know what to do, because we all can share experiences and can troubleshoot and encourage. We learned that we can do more than we think we can. I never thought I could do an internal examination of a goat who was filled with rotten dead matter. We learned that healthy adorable baby goats who are hungry help a person to move on and not be sad for too long.

Maggie and Rose dressed them up in doll clothes and hats this morning. Little Comet, the baby boy, finally got hungry enough to take a bottle. Stella has no problems with bottles. She has a problem with peeing on the ktichen floor. Well, I guess she doesn't see that as a problem. I have a problem with her peeing on the kitchen floor. Back to the barn.

When things slow down, I need to post about baby chickens, more baby goats, fixing electric fence, Duncan, the Piedmontese bull coming over to visit Coco the cow, planting many pounds of onions, getting the tractor stuck in the creek and the joy of getting in unstuck, dead ducks, found egg cache, blooming trees, more rain, puddles, green grass, watercress, daffodils and the forsythia in full bloom.

Until then, gotta get back to school. The farm is waiting impatiently while I type.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Welcome Back Rachel!

No more baby goats have been born yet, no matter how often we check.

HOWEVER, this afternoon brought back our dear friend, Rachel Banks. She drove back from St. Louis to hang out with us on the farm for awhile. The girls helped me fix up her little house. It might be a little nicer to sleep out there now that it is not 15 degrees outside. Nora filled up a drawer in the desk with her own personal artwork. She thought that sometimes Rachel might want to look at it. I think she probably will.

Today was a glorious spring day. Still way to wet for garden, but not for the clothesline. We tried our hand at making homemade laundry soap the other day, thanks to my friend, Belynda's blog, We have been friends since way back in Texas when there were only 4 of us in our little family and I was way outnumbered by boys. The soap called for Fels Naptha, washing soda and Borax. In my typical fashion we didn't exactly follow the recipe, and sort of added way more of everything (I figured that more dirt means more soap). We didn't add all the water to dilute it in the big bucket. I don't think ours turned out the way the recipe would have. It didn't gel. I have to really shake it up to get it to homogenize.

BUT, it really cleans the clothes! And it is really cheap. And it feels good to make stuff instead of buy stuff.

In a few days I will be way too busy with the farm to wash clothes. We will be planting and milking and castrating (baby goats, that is). Shearing and dealing with wool. Baking. Making ready for farmer's market season to begin.

Today I was pretty glad to hang out clean clothes on the line and visit with Rachel. It was fun introducing her to all the new faces on the farm. A lot can happen in a few months. Less cattle, more beef in the freezer. More sheep and baby goats. Less big baby goats. Baby chicks arrive tomorrow. Last fall's chicks are in the freezer.

Rachel is a joy to our family. It gives me such pleasure having these different friends in our life, who want to share our life, the good, the bad and the muddy. Glad you are back, Rachel! I guess those goat girls were waiting for you to get here. Now you get to add to your resume: goat midwifery. Cool.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rain Drops Have Been Falling on my Head, but at least our fields are greening!

We have had rain for days. I am not sure how many inches have fallen, seems like 20, probably more like 2.

We are grateful. We have said our thanks to God for all this rain in our every prayer.

Even so, it sure is messy. Muddy tracks cross the breakfast room, meander through the kitchen because sometimes it is too hard for people to take off their shoes at the door when they are having to go right back outside to finish a chore. The barn floor sure is mucky as the animals don't even think about wiping their feet, hooves, whatever, as they enter in for dry respite and more hay. No one would even think to venture out into the barnyard without some serious boots on to tackle the muddy regions. The ducks, on the other hand, are quite pleased with this weather. Splashing puddles galore. The peeping frogs in the pond are quite pleased with this wet weather as well. When the rain silenced last night, their chorus echoed through the valley. That must be one of my favorite songs.

Clover had her two little boys last Tuesday. Cornflower had a girl and a boy on Sunday afternoon. Mama Chevre had two huge girls yesterday afternoon, 20 minutes after I headed down the road to Lewisburg with two lambs going to the butcher. Maggie and Rose handled to situation beautifully. Mama Chevre is a rescue goat. She was involved in a fire that burned off her milking mechanism. She is a beautiful, spunky 100% alpine doe. Her babies are almost pure white, and long-legged and absolutely adorable ( and temporarily living in a big box in Maggie's room because she was on bottle duty last night). It was funny hearing their wake-up call to Maggie this morning.

We all wonder who will be next. Portia? Nita? Quizzy? Thistle? I am betting on Portia. She is a registered Mini-Nubian who had 4 babies last year. We are still excited about all the babies. That is, until we remember our friend Donna J. at Brambleberry Farm who now has over 50 babies. Then I feel tired. Very tired.

Today's forecast predicts sunshine and 60 degrees. I hope so! It is warmer this morning, very foggy, thick like pea soup. Oatmeal is bubbling, Patrick is making his special Irish Oatcakes to go with, for a special St. Patrick's Day late breakfast. We will continue to study the end of the Middle Ages and then make soda bread and read our traditional Tomie dePaolo's picture book about our favorite saint and missionary, Patrick. Of course, you never know what adventures will come in the middle of our plans. More baby goats we hope. Visits with friends and cups of tea.

No gardening, though. Too mucky. The potatoes will not be planted on St. Patrick's Day this year, alas.

I leave you with a portion of St Patrick's Breastplate Prayer.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of demons,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

Christ shield me today
Against wounding
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Snow Flakes are Falling on My Head

Great big huge giant snowflakes are falling on the farm this morning. More free fertilizer for the fields! And much needed moisture.

Of course, Murphy's Law would predict that goat babies will be born in the cold wet instead of the warm sunshine. We'll see. Maybe those mothers will wait a couple of days.

We are out of hay.


Last year we did not make hay. Wanted to let the fields rest a year. Trying to manage fields with the organic method, that is, without dumping very expensive, possible toxic synthetic fertilizers, is a challenging feat. Sometimes I wonder why we go to the trouble. Then I remember all that research about the components of synthetic fertilizer. I think about the studies that show that food grown by the organic method actually does have higher nutrient values than the alternatives. We are not purists. But we do try hard to do what we can to avoid having toxic fertilizers poison our (and our neighbors) water supply. I hope to get some minerals on the land this spring. We will keep throwing our barn manure on the fields. We will make hay this year. I hope. And hopefully in a few years we can look out on the fields and see diverse plantings making our land and animals stronger.

In the meantime, I guess I better call my friend and see if we can borrow a couple of bales of hay til we can buy some from a farmer down the way this afternoon. The trailer has a very flat tire. Hopefully Philip can fix it after he gets back from work this afternoon.

Enjoy the fat flakes if you are getting them! Spring is almost here! It won't last too terribly long.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

He Made It! or Spring just keeps on springing

The baking soda worked. Floppy fellow couldn't walk on his own the first day, but by yesterday afternoon he looked perfectly normal. Our Dr. friend Serge explained to us what could have been the problem. He suggested that when there is oxygen deprivation, maybe in the case of a prolonged delivery (he is a very long-legged baby) or dehydration acid will build up in the tissues. The bakng soda neutralizes it.

So there you have it. Nice to know that some problems are so easy to fix.

Yesterday our down the road neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Gibson came over and he used his little tractor tiller to till our garden. After a few years of doing it all with shovel and little tiller I wanted to cry with joy to see the job done so efficiently and easily! He tilled and Mrs. Gibson visited and played with the baby goats and lamb with us girls. What a gift.

After a big morning of school the children were happy to have their friends come and play for the rest of the day. Patrick, James and Boone collected brush to make a bonfire. The girls and Sophie took many toys out to the loft of the barn to play store. Rachel and I made soup and shared important news and readied for the ladies' Tuesday night Bible study.

The last few days I have been so grateful for the community in our life. Different farmers, friends, all working together to make life work. Sharing sorrows and joys and worries and hopes. I am thankful for my parents giving me such a good model of communtiy as they lived and worked together with their group of friends.

BTW, my friend Stewart came over late last night to pick up James. He and Patrick were tending the brush fire in one of the garden beds. She laughed when I told her that my prescription for keeping boys out of trouble was let them make fire. It was so beautiful, the brilliantly full moon rising over the ridge, the thousands of rubies glittering in the garden bed, the boys working together, scheming and planning, poking sticks, thoroughly smoked.

Life could be worse! Baby goats, little lambs, baby pigs, green grass, peeping frogs.

I wanted to write a poem about the solitary little forsythia blossom, so eager to join the springtime, trying to wake up her fellow blossoms who keep grumbling about the cold weather to come end of this week, not time to get up yet, just go back to sleep. But I didn't. I wish I could write poetry. I can almost taste the poem. Will have to settle on simply enjoying the picture in my mind, and catching another view out the window.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Baby Goat Season Begins!

Clover gave birth to two little boys this morning. The births were unassisted. One of the little fellows is a floppy little thing. We hope he will make it. He has no control over his legs. Otherwise he seems to be healthy. Can nurse if Maggie holds him up to his mama. His brother is already bouncy. A stroll through google land led me to a website that recommended a dose of baking soda and water for floppy leg syndrome.

Interestingly enough, moments later, good friend Donna Janezcko, goat farmer extraordinaire returned my call for advice. Her first recommendation was a dose of baking soda mixed with water. She gave some other words of wisdom, things to try if that didn't help. We may need to give BOSE, an injection of selenium, in case of white muscle disease. Of course we like to try the least invasive treatments first and give nature a chance to work. I will keep you posted.

Clover picked a perfect day to have babies! She is a week or so early, but the weather is so warm. Maybe a couple of other goats will want to join the maternity ward party. Better sunny and warm than wet, windy and cold.

BTW, Philip picked up our 2 little pigs from Mr. Huffman. He will be fixing their fence out in the garden area. I think they will enjoy their new job, tilling compost and weeds in a section of the garden.

After a nice Botetourt Family Farm meeting last night and a viewing of the dvd THE REAL DIRT ON FARMER JOHN we are getting fired up for the season. This afternoon we are moving aged manure out to the garden. (After I finish my cup of coffee.) Tomorrow we hope to till. Last year we experimented with the almost no-till garden. This year we are going to try the plow and till method. I hope to let you know which way works better. Either way, I am hoping to find a huge stash of old hay to use as deep mulch.

Alright, coffee break over. Back to the barnyard!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Springtime

Yesterday morning while milking I heard the twir and trill of a song bird pirched way up high in the cherry tree.

Last night the breeze blowing in the trees sounded like early March. Not the brutal steam train wind blowing through the valley, but a soft, velvety breeze wandering through the moonlit evening.

At around 5:30 this morning the roosters crowed, trying to get my attention. The moon was a bit over half full. I could hear the sound of the creek gurgling in the distance, swollen with melted snow. That itself was a very pleasant sound. But then came the real gift! Peep. Peep. At first hesitant, kind of like me, waking up in the morning. Peep. Peep. Peep.

Could it be?

Yes! It truly was! The peepers, the little pond frogs woke up to spring this morning. I had missed them so much. Of course not so much that I got up right then to say hello. Somehow I was able to go back to sleep and pleasant dreams.

This morning even more varieties of birds are out there singing their greetings. Welcome back, I say! 52 degrees and the brightest of suns. It will be t-shirt weather this afternoon.

Spring! Spring! Spring!

"This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

New Sheep - Thank you Gary!

We met a "neighbor" at a farm meeting last year. We were happy to know he raised Jacob and Cotswold sheep. He and his wife spin and do cool stuff with the wool. I had hoped to buy a couple of sheep from him last year, but never got to it. When I called him up this winter, I was so surprised at his offer to give us some sheep.

Gary Winkler is an author with a book about to be published in May. Book publishing means travelling. Traveling means not being at home. Not being at home means not being able to take care of a flock of sheep.

It is sad to see someone say goodbye to a flock of friends. We didn't take all his flock, but a substantial part of it. He would walk through the barn and call this one or that by name and they would raise their heads and nod in his direction. Except for when he called them to come on up into the trailer to go for a ride, but that is another story. Sheep aren't that dumb! He had a real relationship with these animals and you could tell it was hard to end this chapter of his life.

We are thrilled to meet new friends. They are safely tucked in the upper part of the barn. A little freaked out, but not too bad. Sissy, Baby and her baby Steeler, Maya and her big son Easter Bunny, Annie and her big daughter Little Dee and her little daughter, yet to be named, Freda, Willow, and Angel, with Angel's sons' Amos and Andy. Boaz and the rest of the Full Circle Farm gang are curious. I hope these new friends will settle in and be content in their new home. We look forward to doing cool stuff with their wool.

We are very grateful to Gary and his wife for their generous gift. May if be returned to them in many unusual and wonderful ways!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Snow Day

My stories of childhood snow icecream are legendary for the children.

Especially when I really only have limited memories of making it. Back in the early 70's we got a few decent snows in Central Oklahoma. One of those snowy days I remember being at our friend's, the Hamburgers' house. Christi Hamburger was my very best childhood friend. Her sister, Michelle, was like a big sister to me. Her mom and dad, Keith and Kathy were, and still are like a second set of parents. Keith and Daddy were firefighters in Oklahoma City who decided to move to the country and live off the land, commuting to the City on work days and working the farm like crazy on off days.

Maybe the drive from outside of Prague to outside of Paden was only 10 miles or so, but it felt like a hundred as we would bounce down those graded, rough, washboard red clay back roads. Never mind. I guess our parents liked each other (still do!) as we sure did spend a lot of time at each others homes.

I will never forget the snowy day Kathy sent us out for a big bowl of clean fluffy snow. I figure my own mother must have done the same, countless times, but something about being in the Hamburger house with my best friend making snow icecream made that memory glow.

She mixed in milk and sugar and vanilla and we thought that was the best icecream we had ever consumed in our life! And we kids grew up eating icecream all summer long. That was back in the day of church icecream socials which will have to be another post come July...

All winter the children have heard tale of the snow icecream. No powder sugar three quarter inch dusting will do for snow icecream. For obvious reasons one must harvest the deep, spotlessly clean stuff.

Yesterday was the day.

The snow was too powdery for making great snowmen, but it made DELICIOUS icecream. First, Maggie snagged some heavy cream (thank you, Coco). She mixed in some succanat, which is unrefined sweetener, and some vanilla. Then she found a nice supply of perfectly clean, deep snow and filled up the mixing bowl. They stirred in the sweetened cream and those girls were quite pleased with themselves!

"It tastes like real icecream!" I heard them exclaim, and smiled.

Our friend Stewart sent the boys home with some amazing boiled custard. Maggie used part of that to make dessert BEFORE supper. Of course you can guess what that would be: more snow icecream.

It did taste delicious. And it did bring back such sweet memories of friends, our community and such deep relationships that somehow span time and distance.

Today is another snow day. I hope we will get to spend it with some friends! And make some more memories.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Yippee! Welcome to March!

The snow is falling relentlessly. We are living in a winter wonderland this afternoon. The fluffy blanket muffles sound across Full Circle Farm. Goats, sheep, cattle and chicken are hanging out in the barn, munching on hay. The ducks are brave souls, waddling around the barnyard. The white pekins look oddly dirty in contrast to the brilliant fluffy snow.

After church we took a drive out to an acquaintance' farm to check out some sheep. The drive was magical. We can all wait for spring if there is a lovely snowfall to enjoy. It appears to be a good enough snow to sled and make many snowmen and women.

The snow is so wonderful for our soil. It provides moisture, of course we all know that. But did you know that snow captures nitrogen from the air and applies it to our fields? Free fertilizer!

I think snow is also wonderful for our soul. It is hard to not exclaim in childlike wonder when our surroundings completely transform into a winter fairy wonderland. Magical. Mystical.

I think I know how we will spend the first half of our school day tomorrow morning.


P.S. As we all enjoy our picturesque winter vignettes, let's all remember those who do not have cozy fires and hot chocolate and warm blankets and see if there might be some little thing we could do to help... The Fincastle Social Services is still accepting donations for the Heating Assistance Program.