Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Stupidest Job on the Farm

Ok-- really. We're out of control. The lunatics are completely in charge of the asylum.

Somehow we have gotten into the habit of protecting the barn cats' breakfast and dinner from the chickens. I suppose we should start with the fact that our barn cats get two squares a day, but I actually find that one easy to defend. These are pet barn cats. Not unlovable, aloof barn cats. They interact with us, sit in our laps, come visit in the house yard and still, despite their small meals, do a darned fine job of catching and eating varmints. They are great cats.

What I am at odds to explain is how we began the ritual of sitting on a bucket and waving a fishing rod at the chickens to keep them out of the cats' food. It is a job I take on more frequently than Christian, but it is way funnier to see C doing it in his big farmer hat.


Oh - and for the record - this is what it looks like from the bucket. Scary, huh?

Monday, June 29, 2009


Disaster Recovery

Back around the time of Ike, a lot of people asked us what a hurricane/power outage would mean to us and how catastrophic it would be. We found out today that we were exactly right in our assessment.

Because of our extremely small size, the frequency with which we process milk, and our rate of sales, our worst case - a power failure with no backup generator - would mean we would have to dispose of everything we had on hand. Which again, worst-case for us, would mean the entire contents of two refrigerators.

Breaking that down further, it would likely mean no more than 24 or so gallons of milk and no more than 50 pounds of cheese - but it would be unlikely that we would ever have that much milk and cheese both at the same time, as we sell everything we make about every three days.

Last night one of our refrigerators succumbed to the insane heat wave and froze-up while working overtime to get down to temp. This happened overnight and we came out to a fridge full of milk idling at about 55 or 60 degrees this morning. Oh noez!

We were supposed to turn 22 gallons into feta today and instead, the milk began to curdle on its own and the pigs were treated to 18 gallons - or approximately 144 pounds of soured, slightly curdled "fridge cheese". Sigh.

Due to an unusually large accumulation of milk before processing, we actually had quite a bit of milk in the other fridge (normally we keep milk in one and cheese in the other) and so did not lose our entire stock - which was at a near record 33 gallons. Fifteen gallons were fine and are culturing away in the pasteurizer now.

But we will not be going to market tomorrow.

The good news is that we defrosted the frozen parts and the fridge is working fine again. We plan to get a better A/C unit for the dairy to keep the ambient temp at 86 or so for the rest of the summer to avoid this happening again. We had just been running the A/C while we were working or while cheese was hanging, but we have learned that this does not actually work when it's 100 plus outside.

All this being said, I am proud to report that my days of crying over spilt - or in this case spoilt - milk are firmly behind me. While I was incredibly frustrated today, I was able to see that it is not REALLY catastrophic. We lost money today, to be sure...but not so much that we won't bounce back next week.

Farming. The fun never ends.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Well! Debbie came home from her broody sabbatical with three little white peeps this morning. We never did figure out where her nest was, so there is no telling how many eggs she actually hatched and how many babies she may have lost on the way back to the barn from her nest site. At this point she is three times better than Dawn on her first go and she blew out Audrey, who hatched two and came back with none.

Here are two of them with proud mama.

While I was out there, I caught a quick updated photo of Mickie and Dawn's remaining peeps. There are still five and they all fly now. That will make it exponentially harder to round them up and re-home them. :( But I think it's time for them to go. We don't need so many guineas and we have already arranged a trade for a future turkey processing.

And speaking of turkeys... We lost two of the poults. :( One, um, kind of, well...walked into our dog's mouth. Ahem. And one went completely AWOL. We quickly re-settled the other two in the coop whereupon one started to look really gimpy. To say I panicked is an understatement. I mean - one needs to make it to Thanksgiving. It was a freakin' wedding present. I briefly considered sending a photo of a dead turkey with a note, "I am sorry, but your turkey died. Take this as a lesson. If you do not properly care for your marriage, it too will die." But that seemed bad even for me. So we ordered 15 more that will be mailed out next week. Just in case.

Yes. 15.

Why, you ask? Good question. It's crazy, huh? Well, it is really the minimum order. They can't mail you just one or two - they need to fill a box to provide warmth and cushioning. That's why we get them at the feed store. They order in bulk and we can pick up as many as we want.

So anyway, the feed store is done now. I had to get serious. On 7/29 the hatchery will put 15 day-old heritage breed turkeys in a box and send them our way. I elected the "Hatchery Choice" option, meaning they can send us any kind they have on hand. We may get 15 of one kind or we may get 3-4 each of four kinds. I have no idea. I only hope they will tell us what they sent.

Our plan is to get them past the critical do or die point (6 weeks or so) and then sell all but maybe five on craigslist. And we're building a mobile coop - or turkey tractor - to avoid any more losses to our bad house dog, Max.

Ugh. Have I ever mentioned that we are NOT a poultry farm? You wouldn't really know it these days.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

When it's time to change....

Well, this is cool.

One of our mallards is having some kind of crazy puberty.

When we first started seeing plumage on our mallards, we thought we had all females. Very drab, brown coloring. It was a little bummer, but no biggie. I mean, it's not like we actually NEED them to breed and make more ducks. It's kind of poultry-palooza around here right now. Then I found out we actually had males in "eclipse" plumage. Which, I now believe was actually just juvenile, plumage, but whatever - same net: Brown. Drab. I think I posted about this before but am too lazy to check my archives.

In any case, Peep - our male - is starting to molt the boring browns and get his flashy adult male/breeding plumage. It is an amazing thing to watch. Here are a couple photos. The first is how he looked pre-molt. The second is a few days into the molt. Peep is the one in the back. In the front is Star - the female. Peep looked just like her until days before the photo was taken.

You can see the pretty silver-grey feathers coming in and his face is getting decidedly green.

I am blown away by this. Nature is just too weird. I'll take a few more pics in the next couple weeks and show you his progress. Go, Peep! I hope the mating follows. I can't help it...I just love baby ducks.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Well, I guess Milhouse is not a girl after all. "She" is starting to grow some little testicles. Huh. Good thing we're not kitten farmers. We'd be way behind the curve.

Little Chicken is still a girl. So there's that. And the cuteness - it has not diminished. Ouch.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

No means no!

So Tuesday morning, all went well. Trudy seemed to sniff every inch of the back pasture and didn't come home with her fawn. Hooray!

Late Tuesday morning I began to feel incredibly ill. Christian had been sick/achy all day Monday, but mine was more of a stomach thing. A MAJOR, painful stomach thing. By afternoon, I was out for the count. The stomach part of the sickness caught Christian, too, and both of us whimpered our way through the rest of the day and bravely faced milking that night and the next morning, despite our crumminess.

So Wednesday morning I was looking out of the kitchen window while washing dishes and saw Trudy in a telltale posture. The - "OMG I can't believe I have this thing, this wonderful thing, and I hope Mom doesn't see it and take it away from me" pose. I clutched my tummy and strode out to the field to see what she had.

Between her paws, and covered in doggy saliva was her little buddy, who I had named Fawn Haul. (I'll blame that one on being delirious from sick). I took the wet fawn away and brought her back to the dairy barn. I put her down in front of Christian and set about locking Trudy up so I could bring her back to her field. We looked her over, decided she had been eating and was walking well and so I brought her back and put her in some tall grass and went inside to feel crummy. Hours later she was gone again.

Our best guess on what is happening here is that the mom was able to step over the hot wire and through the barbed wire at the back of our field, but the fawn was not. So the mom has been coming to feed her and move her and hide her daily and will eventually - when the fawn can get through the fence - take her away.

In any case, we did not see here again today. Thank god. Because really, we just can't have her here. For one, it is a huge distraction for the Trude. And beyond that, deer can carry parasites that are REALLY devastating to goats. If Trudy finds her again, we'll either have to put her on the other side of the fence or call a rescue agency. She's ridiculously cute, but enough is enough.

...besides, I'm pretty sure she's the one who gave us that awful deer-bola. I am just now feeling well enough to handle food/make cheese and we are WAY behind schedule because of it.

...stupid Fawn Haul.

Monday, June 8, 2009

No, you cannot stay.

Sheesh. I think we have some kind of karmic wildlife sucker reputation. The animals won't stop comin'.

Yesterday, after much research and plans to be away from home for most of the day, we decided to try to return Tequila to his nest. Baby birds need to eat very frequently, and we jut were not going to be able to keep up. Christian rigged up an elaborate tractor/ladder combo to reach the nest and successfully deposited the little fledgling back where he belonged.

We spent the day in town and when we came back, saw Grumpy sitting on the tractor and the mama bird irritatedly swooping at him. That was all I needed to see to know that she had found her baby. Success!

So we brought the goats in from pasture and got ready to milk when Trudy showed up and presented this little gem to Christian.

I have to give her some credit. To a dog, this must certainly look like a baby goat. And lord knows where she found it, but she got it back to the barn without hurting it.

We decided in VERY short order that we would not be bottle raising a deer and called a friend with lots of rescue experience for advice. She said to bring her back to the field and that mama would most likely come looking for her. It is part of the deal that they leave newborns (and this little one could not have been more than 24 hours old) to eat and come back later. We put her in some tall grass under a tree and hoped for the best.

This morning Christian crossed his fingers and went out to look for her. He couldn't find her anywhere and we think nature actually did its thing and that mama came to get her.

Thank goodness. Quite frankly, the inn is full right now. We only have room for pictures.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Because we don't have enough to do around here....

Yesterday evening we found Grumpy crouched in the driveway, being harassed by a couple of mockingbirds. It was another chance for me to assume there was something dead.

Turns out -- again -- I was wrong. It was something alive. But 20 feet below its nest. I guess Grumpy was just watching it for us.

We are now hand-raising a baby mockingbird who Christian named Tequila. (Get it?) Because, you know we have so much free time around here. *roll eyes*

I admit - the pathetic-ness of this little guy has won me over.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Get your anti-nausea meds ready...

Meet Night Shift. Our new Great Pyrenees puppy. She came home today.

Penny Lane and Binder aren't so sure about her. Little Chicken, on the other hand, thinks she's fab.

She'll live in the kid pen for a few months with periodic training outings with Trudy and the big girls. I hope she's even half as good at her job as the Trude.


This is Milhouse in self-imposed exile under a coffee table in the office. We call it Kitmo.

Because I feel bad for bumming everyone out with the Loretta story.And because this is just the kind of thing that forces me to laugh.

We're doing OK here, BTW. The vet put Lo down yesterday. It was peaceful and quiet and she is no longer in any pain. Totally worth every penny.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Went out for our nightly ritual of watching ducks play in the baby pool. Six ducks are gone. And one peep peep. No sign of any of them. No feathers, no carcasses. Nothing. I seriously don't need this right now.

Edited at 7:28. Christian found the ducks. They were lost in the waaaay back acreage. They are all there.

The peep peep, not so much. :(

I am sure I've mentioned this before -- that I always think everything is dead. Christian never does. I love that sometimes he's right. Most of the time, actually. Thanks, C.

You just can't say...

When we first started out farming we said a lot of things about how our farm would be run and how we, as business people, would handle situations from land stewardship to animal health and everything in between.

What we have learned is that all that talk really doesn't mean anything. You can only make the decisions you have to make as you are faced with them, and you can't know what circumstances will have led to that point.

Early on we said there would be no vets. With great hubris, we would announce things like, "our vets will be Smith and Wesson"; because ultimately a good quality milk goat can be purchased for between three and five hundred dollars, so accruing a vet bill for $300 would simply be bad business.

But here we are. With $300 already spent to diagnose Loretta's cancer and another $120 or so to go to have her euthanized and incinerated. Which I think we may do tomorrow.

So how did we get here? It is a number of things, but here are the factors unique to this decision:

1. Loretta presented with symptoms we were unable to process into a diagnosis we could be sure of.

She had a slight facial paralysis, difficulty eating and controlling her tongue and what we though were swollen lymph nodes. No fever, which made us wary of calling it a simple infection. She did not respond to our first line measures including benadryl (in case it was bee/scorpion sting or snakebite) and an anti-inflammatory pain medication to help reduce inflammation and pain related to eating. Neither helped her at all. Having ruled out bite/sting, we started thinking it actually WAS an infection of some sort, even though she had no fever. We needed a prescription antibiotic anyway, assuming it might have been an inner ear infection or something dental, so we figured we might as well take her in to be sure what we were facing and to get the proper antibiotic. It wouldn't take much for a vet to figure it out if it were one of those two things. And we could get the drugs as well as a few backup prescription meds for our stash. Normally, we are our own vets.

When we got to the vet, she ruled out teeth and ears. She thought the swelling we saw on her neck were abscesses, not swollen nodes,and as I mentioned in my last post,you do not mess around with abscesses on a goat. Our management philospohy says you must culture the pus and isolate the goat until you can be sure you are not dealing with CL. So we did. We also had to address the appetite issues and the fact that if a goat stops eating for too long it can irreversibly damage its rumen. Total vet bill for blood testing, medicines, theraputic drugs and outlab CL testing - $300.

2. We recently had the world's worst farm experience in having to euthanize Jakarta.

Christian is still affected by that day in the barn and honestly is not prepared to do it again. And he is pretty sure that even though I offered to do it this morning, I am not either. I can't say. You can't know until you do something. You can talk big about shooting a goat - and a lot of people have no problem doing it. We are just not those people. Not yet anyway. This is something that may or may not change. Add to that the fact that we don't have a good place to leave the carcass (Because I REALLY don't want parts to come home in Trudy's weird pile) and we decided we may as well pay the $75 to have them dispose of the body, too. My guess is that the whole thing will be between $120-150.

So there we are.

We talked about all of this at length. We asked whether this made us "bad" farmers. We know it makes no sense financially. But here it is: It's who we are today. And what feels right for us in this specific situation. And in the end, that's all you have. You just can't say how you'll be until the time comes to be.

I hope we don't have hard choices like this again soon, though we are not so naive to think we won't have them again. This is part of farming and having animals. The very, very hard part. Does it make us bad farmers? No. I think I could argue that it is what makes us good farmers. Be the change you want to see. These are the farmers we are.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sweet Loretta

Oh, shit.

Loretta has cancer.

She took ill last week and we brought her to the vet. The vet thought she had CL, which would have been devastating to our herd. CL is a highly contagious disease that results in abscesses and can never fully be eradicated once it is in your soil. We have been very careful about buying from clean herds only and not allowing strange animals on the property, so we were skeptical that that could be what was wrong.

The good news for the herd is that we were right. The bad news for all of us is that it is Lymphosarcoma and death will come rapidly now that she has shown signs.

We will be doing our best to keep her comfortable and when it gets too hard for her to eat and play, we will have her put down, quietly, at the vet.

I am so sad. It is always the sweetest goats that this kind of thing hits. Lo has been a wonderful, sweet, clowny girl in our herd and we will miss her so much. I'm not much on the praying for livestock, but if you will keep us in your thoughts, it would be much appreciated.