23 January 2015

T-3 Countdown

It's looking like days are now numbered for T-3's stay in my office.

In the days since my initial post about her, the little goat kid who was once on death's door has continued to thrive. She's drinking more milk than ever, and isn't shy about letting me know she's hungry. As a result, she's growing very nicely. Definitely putting on weight, and is extremely healthy and energetic.

So, what's the problem? Why are her days numbered?

In short, she's now figured out how to do this:


pretty much at will, any time she feels like it. Yes, it's fun having her hop up and climb onto me when I stretch out to read a book or watch TV. But I've already caught her trying to piddle on the couch...and if she ever succeeds in soaking the cushions, that's going to be a problem.

So far, she's not terribly interested in jumping up unless there's a person on the couch to be with. Or a dog.

But sometimes, it seems she just wants to be "up." Because, you know, that's just What. Goats. Do. There's a reason why they're not house pets.

We'll probably give her a few more days to bulk up, and then begin transitioning her to the barn. It'll depend on the weather, of course. I'm not going to put her out there if the temps drop into the single digits. But if we get a reasonably mild stretch (at least by January-in-Michigan standards), we'll definitely make the move.

20 January 2015

Here We Go(at) Again

Looks like my office building is back to being Goat Central Station.

Francesco, the kid who arrived just before Thanksgiving, is thriving. Shortly after putting up the blog post about him, Francesco began going all "mountain goat" on my furniture. I can tolerate a lot of goat piddle on the vinyl floor, but not on the couch. Given how big and strong he was getting, and how easily he was jumping onto everything at will, it was clear that he was ready to get demoted from Pet Goat back to Plain Old Goat. He's been living in the barn, with the rest of the herd, for well over a month now. Still getting bottle-fed, but he's also been trying out some hay and grain. He remains huge, and beautiful, and we have high hopes for him as a future breeder.

Just as I was settling in and enjoying having the office to myself (and the truly domesticated pets), we had a most untimely arrival. About a week ago, a bitter cold front plowed through, dropping the temps into single digits and below. Naturally, that's exactly when one of our other does decided to deliver her goat kid.

Fortunately, our twelve year old was making regular trips to the barn to feed Francesco --- so he found the poor little thing before it froze to death. She was laying in a heap, soaking wet, coated in afterbirth, and unable to stand. She was also very small; much smaller than Francesco, and even smaller than most newborn kids. Clearly, her mother goat had written her off as hopeless; she hadn't even bothered licking the little one dry.

Our first thought was to use towels and a blow dryer to get her cleaned up. It quickly became obvious that this wouldn't be enough, however. The barn was simply way too cold, and the kid couldn't stand on her own feet when we tried to set her upright. Plus, it was doubtful she'd ever nurse from her mother goat. Bottom line was that even completely dry, she wouldn't last the night out there in the barn.

That left only one option: spirit her into my office building and get her comfortable in a cardboard box next to the heater. Within a couple of hours, she was almost completely dry. Problem was, though, she was still too small and weak to stand. Every time I tried setting her on her feet, her gangly legs buckled and collapsed.

We knew she needed to eat, so Homeschooled Farm Girl and I returned to the barn to try getting some colostrum from Mother Goat. Unfortunately, this was a fairly young doe and her udder was barely enlarged. Plus, her teats were very small. HFG couldn't express more than a few drops.

Plan B. I warmed up a large bottle of plain goat milk for Francesco, and tried giving some to the new goat kid before going out to feed him. Given how weak she was, I wasn't sure she'd have the strength to suck much down. Fortunately, she proved me wrong. Once the first bit of warm milk hit her tongue, she was off to the races. Started sucking like crazy, and took the better part of that large bottle --- several ounces worth. Happily, I refilled the bottle for Francesco.

The next morning, the Yeoman Farm Children managed to get about a cup of colostrum out of the new mother goat. And another cup that evening. I began feeding that liquid gold to the kid, and she impressed me with her sucking ability.

Not, however, with her standing ability. Try as I might, I couldn't get her to support her own weight. And I tried several times that day and into the next. Finally (I can't remember how long it took), she began balancing unsteadily before collapsing. Then she began taking a few tentative steps. Because my office floor is so slick, she mostly just scooted around. She especially liked scooting into small, confined spaces, like around HFG's bicycle that'd been set up on an indoor trainer. I think she liked the sense of security, and having what felt like a "safe place". Just had to make sure HFG always looks carefully before using the bike!



Finally, very slowly, the new kid's number of tentative steps increased. Then increased more. Now, about at about a week old, she's getting around my office completely at will. This is a much slower pace than Francesco's, but I couldn't care less. She's healthy, getting strong, growing larger, and looks like she's going to make it. (Plus, the mother goat's milk has kicked in and we're getting a pretty good supply.) I don't even mind cleaning up the goat kid's piddle puddles, because those puddles tell me her whole little system is working.

Once she was out of the woods, Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I told the children that they could name the new kid. After trying out several that wouldn't work, they settled on a placeholder: T-3.

Where did THAT come from? She's the third kid to be born in the most recent crop or wave of goats. (Francesco was #2, and shortly before him was Goat Burger ... guess which one we were planning to keep, and which we planned to send to the freezer?) In the spirit of the Cat in the Hat, these kids could be thought of as Thing One, Thing Two, and now...Thing Three. Or T-3 for short. Eventually she'll have to get a better name than that; when you have this many animals to name, sometimes it takes a while to settle on something that hasn't already been used.

She's quickly becoming "one of the gang" here in my office.

I'm looking forward to enjoying her company for the next couple of weeks. At least until she decides to go all mountain goat on my furniture...at which point she will get demoted back to the barn.

Just in time, no doubt, for a T-4 to come join the party here in Goat Central Station.

04 December 2014

Not Such a Bummer

Raise sheep or goats long enough, and you're sure to get the occasional "bummer" --- a newborn which, for whatever reason, doesn't get nursed by his or her own mother. Any time we have lambs or goat kids, we pay close attention to the bond the newborn is developing with Mom. The overwhelming majority of the time, things work out great. But when they don't, it's important to have the bottles and nipples ready.

The Sunday before Thanksgiving (November 23), we came home from a day with relatives to discover a newborn goat kid in the barn. His mother goat had licked him off, and he was perfectly dry. That's usually a good sign. He was up and moving around nicely - another good sign. He was quite large, and beautiful. We didn't actually see him nurse, but he seemed content. For her part, the mother seemed to be doing fine as well. It was her first kidding, and she seemed to have taken it in stride. Other than what appeared to be a little bit of afterbirth protruding from her rear end, she looked no different than she had that morning.

Monday morning, however, it was clear something wasn't right. The goat kid was bleating like he was hungry, and yet we couldn't get him fastened on to a nipple. His mother's udder was very full, another sign that he hadn't been nursing. Plus, Mom's "afterbirth" hadn't come out the rest of the way, so we gave it a closer look. It appeared that her birth canal had actually prolapsed somewhat during the delivery. We'd never had this happen before, to any of our sheep or goats, so it came as quite a surprise.

Concerned about infection, we immediately called the vet. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer arranged for the goat to be seen, and in the meantime Homeschooled Farm Girl milked all the colostrum out that she could. We took the goat kid to my office, and used a small syringe to squirt colostrum into his mouth. He was definitely hungry, and lapped the stuff up eagerly.

Given how nasty cold the weather was getting, we decided it would be best to leave the goat kid in my office for the time being.

The box proved a little small, but was a good try

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer took the mother goat to the vet, who diagnosed a prolapsed vagina. Fortunately, it was a fairly straightforward fix, and he said it shouldn't recur in future kiddings. He got everything put back in place, stitched it securely, and MYF drove the goat home.

We tried again to get the kid to nurse, but it clearly wasn't going to happen. Despite his obvious hunger, he wouldn't go on the teat. And Mom, for her part, didn't want to stand still for him anyway. With all the stress of birthing complications, and the trip to the vet, it appeared that their bond was permanently broken. Bummer.

Homeschooled Farm Girl again milked out all the colostrum she could; we put it in a bottle, and fed it to the kid in my office. He got the hang of the nipple right away, and sucked the stuff down with gusto. Our kids named him "Francesco," in honor of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals.

With the weather not looking any better, I didn't have the heart to leave Francesco out in the barn. My office building has an old vinyl floor, which has seen more pet accidents than I can count, and cleans up well enough. Besides, with two farm dogs and a cat already living out here...what difference would another little animal make? I decided to let him stay until he gets big enough to go all "mountain goat" on my furniture and/or starts leaving goat pellets all over the place. Then, he will get transitioned to the barn. We're hoping that being bottle-fed will make him more docile and manageable, and therefore a safer adult breeding buck to keep on the property long-term.

Three days old. Decided the collie was more comfortable than his box.


On Thanksgiving Day, he was only five days old. We were planning to be gone all day visiting family, which created a problem: Francesco would need to eat, and no one would be home to feed him. We decided to put him in a large box, and take him (and a quart of goat milk) with us.

Francesco proved to be a big hit at the family gathering, and one of our kids' cousins in particular really enjoyed holding him and getting a turn bottle feeding him. The rest of the time, he stood or slept securely in his box.

Back at home, he continued working to fit in with the the other denizens of my office building.

Floyd, the border collie, was the most welcoming


Tiger, the cat...not so much

By December 1st, at just over a week old, Francesco figured out how to climb onto the couch like the other pets do. He's not stupid. It's a lot more comfortable than the floor.


Tiger remained unimpressed

Floyd continues to treat him as just another member of the gang, and seems happy to keep serving as Francesco's pillow.


The Homeschooled Farm Children think it's great fun having a new pet. I designated the 12 year old as primary bottle-feeder; he needs to be reminded to take care of it, but he gets the job done. In the meantime, five-year-old Little Brother is eager to fill in any time we let him.


On a farm, it seems there's no shortage of opportunities for learning responsibility...even while having fun the whole time you're learning it.

As for me...it's kind of weird having a goat kid rummaging around in my trash can, pulling out pieces of paper, and nibbling them down. And I do need to keep a pile of old towels handy, for his inevitable piddle puddles.

The goat is more likely to eat your homework than the dog ever will be

But I have to admit, it's also a lot of fun having him around. He spends quite a bit of time at my feet, under the desk, on an old piece of carpet.

Technically speaking, I guess he'll always be a "bummer." But he definitely hasn't been one for our family.

14 October 2014

Needle in a Haystack

Has anything in your life, that seemed almost inconsequential at the time, come back 20+ years later as something with potentially enormous significance?

In 1992, I was less than a year out of college and settling in at my first real job. I was enjoying living on my own, and getting to know my way around Metro Detroit. Sometime early that year, our office building had the Red Cross in for a blood drive. I'd given blood on occasion in high school and college, and was comfortable with the process, so signed up for a slot and donated.

As I munched on the post-donation juice and cookies, I flipped through some brochures that had been put out from a related organization. This other group was building a registry of potential bone marrow donors; for a cancer patient with no compatible blood relatives --- especially full siblings --- available to donate, getting a hit through the registry could be their only hope. I honestly can't remember what in particular compelled me to fill out the form and apply to join the registry, but I did. I was most likely moved by the realization that I, having been adopted as an infant, almost certainly have no full blood siblings --- and certainly none that I knew of or could ever locate. I think that made it easy for me to empathize with the plight of someone in a similar situation. And, heck, let's face it: I was young and probably idealistic about potentially saving someone's life.

The registry deemed me healthy enough to join, and collected a small blood sample (they now use a cheek swab) to "type" me for the database. Human DNA has proteins called “Human Leukocyte Antigens,” or HLAs, attached to it. These HLAs serve as markers, to determine how good a match a potential donor is for a particular patient. There are a great many HLA markers --- but ten in particular that are especially important and that doctors examine to assess the degree of match. As I understand it, six (or three sets of two) of these are relatively easy and inexpensive to identify; these six are what go into each potential donor's registry record. When a patient needs a transplant, these basic six are used to greatly narrow the search. Anyone who makes the "short list" then submits a second blood sample and the expensive additional testing is done to identify his remaining four HLA markers. A donor and patient don't have to match on ten out of ten, but the more common markers they share, the more compatible their bodies are. And therefore the greater chance the patient's body will react well to the donor's tissue.

Two analogies, besides the obvious "needle in a haystack," come to mind: 

10 October 2014

Surprise Bonus!

Living on a farm, you never know when a curve ball will throw your whole day onto an unexpected trajectory. It could be the surprise arrival of a goat kid or lamb, especially one that needs human attention because the mother isn't doing her job. It could be the stupid goat that snaps a leg going over a fence. Or any number of other things.

Tuesday of this week, it was an early-morning collision on the road in front of our property. I was out in my office when I heard the sound of crunching metal. The dogs began barking, and I went to the window for a look. A car had stopped toward the western edge of our land, and two whitetail deer where headed across our hay field. The lead animal was bounding at full tilt, but the second one was hobbling badly. It wasn't hard to deduce what had happened.

Another vehicle stopped to assist the one that'd hit the deer, so I returned my attention to the hay field. It appeared that both animals were now long gone, but then I took a closer look. In fact, the trailing deer --- a doe --- had collapsed in the middle of the field. Her head would be visible for a few seconds at a time, struggling, before dropping below the tall grass. It was likely that the collision had broken some ribs, which had punctured a lung; it was how more than one of our beloved farm dogs had died over the years. I figured the humane thing to do would be to put her out of her misery.

I holstered a handgun, then pulled on my jacket and jogged out to the hay field. As I made my way toward the struggling animal, I noticed an older woman walking in from the road as she talked on a cell phone. She greeted me, and introduced herself as the driver of the car that'd hit the deer. She said she'd called the sheriff's department, and that a deputy would be coming to take the accident report and euthanize the deer. "They asked if I want the deer, and I don't," she added. "Do you?"

"Sure," I replied.

After trying to describe our location to the person on the other end of the line, the woman handed me the phone, and I told the dispatcher exactly what our address was. "I have a pistol and can put the deer down right now," I added.

"No, you can't!" the dispatcher replied. "You need to wait for the deputy." I was more than a bit taken aback by the dispatcher's emphatic tone, but on later reflection understood the policy better. Without an officer to confirm the circumstances of the situation, it would be easy for a poacher to shoot a deer and then later claim he was euthanizing an injured animal. He could even break one of the animal's legs, and/or a few ribs, to make the story more convincing.

I assured the dispatcher that I would wait for authorities to arrive, then handed the phone back to the driver. But as she gave her name and other information, euthanizing the deer became moot. The poor doe went into death throes, and flopped flat onto the hay field. The driver's voice broke with emotion, and could barely spell her own name for the dispatcher. I knelt and stroked the doe's neck and head as the animal expired --- even more as a gesture of comfort for the driver than for the deer.

Once she finished with the dispatcher, the woman returned to her car and I went back to the house. I got a large wheelbarrow, took it to the hayfield, and after quite a struggle managed to get the heavy doe into the wheelbarrow. I considered bleeding the animal out, but didn't want to risk having to explain a large knife wound to the officer. Instead, I simply wheeled the body up next to the woman's car, told her I'd return once the police arrived, and then went back to my office to wait.

I didn't realize the police had arrived until I looked up and saw the driver bringing the wheelbarrow down our driveway to back porch. I looked out to the road, and saw the patrol car now behind hers. Apparently, the officer had been satisfied with what he'd seen and no longer needed the deer's body. I grabbed my identification, and followed the woman back to her car. Her husband had also arrived, and the three of us stood around making small talk while the officer sat in his cruiser and worked on a computer. It was an unfortunate way to meet the neighbors (they lived just a couple of miles up the road from us), but I enjoyed getting to know them.

While we were talking, our oldest son came out to the road to see what was going on. He told me he'd seen the carcass in the wheelbarrow, and had thought one of our own goats --- one that indeed has coloration very similar to a deer's --- had died. I explained what'd happened, and assured him that all of our animals were fine. But it was still an amusing misunderstanding that injected some much-needed levity into an otherwise sad situation.

Eventually, the officer finished his work and gave me an official "Permit to Posses Deer or Bear." I thanked him, then said my good-byes to the woman and her husband. (Her car had substantial front end damage, but was fortunately still operational.)

Back at the house, I had a decision to make. Take the carcass to our butcher, and spend $60 or more having him process it? Or try my hand at carving it up myself? Although I butcher all of our poultry, and am not the least bit squeamish, I'd never attempted to butcher a mammal larger than a scrawny goat kid or lamb. In my mind, I guess large mammals had become something "I Can't Do," and that "Someone Else Has to Do For Me."

I was tired of thinking that way, and decided to treat this deer as a learning experience. Yeah, I would probably make some mistakes. But so what? It had cost us absolutely nothing. The whole thing was a pure bonus.

I left a message for a friend who has a lot more experience butchering deer, and who'd told me some time back that he'd be happy to teach me how to process a deer or goat. And then my oldest son and I got started as best we could. First, I got some heavy-duty baling twine, then cut holes near the each of the deer's rear ankles to string it through. While I hugged and hoisted the deer as high as I could, my son pulled the twine over a large beam in the downstairs part of our barn.

Problem is, though, that beam is only about seven feet off the ground. Even with the deer as high as I could string her, the head was still almost on the ground. Since I didn't have any other options at the moment, we got to work as best we could. First, I cut the head off to allow as much blood to drain. Then, in the time before our friend arrived, I managed to disembowel the animal and get all the guts / organs removed. There was a lot more material, but the process was similar enough to eviscerating a turkey or goose. The twelve-year-old joined us somewhere in the middle of this process, and the two boys thoroughly enjoyed identifying each of the body parts as they came out. We saved the heart and liver (which were HUGE compared to their poultry counterparts!), fed the lungs to the chickens and barn cats, and dumped everything else into an old feed bag for disposal.

Our friend got there soon after I cut the hide and began peeling it off the deer's hind legs and back like a sock. He'd brought a real block and tackle, which would work well using the rafters of our garage. He helped me cut the carcass down and move it, then he set up his hoist in the garage. A moment later, we lifted the remains of the deer into place. It still was a little lower than ideal, but a much better work space than the barn.

It took us about 45 minutes or so to finish skinning the deer and cut off the neck. We then flipped the carcass around the other way, so it was now hanging from the front legs. This let us remove large chunks of meat, and the hind quarters, and he showed me how to remove the tenderloins and back straps. We also got a good look inside the chest cavity, which confirmed my suspicions about how the deer died: several ribs on her right side were badly broken, which had most likely punctured her lung.

We put the meat in large food grade plastic bags, and stored them in a spare refrigerator. We made the mistake, however, of thinking the garage would remain cool enough to allow the fore quarters to hang and age for a couple of days. It was certainly cool enough at night (we even had our first frost early today), but the garage got warmer than expected during the daytime hours. When my neighbor returned this morning to help cut up the large pieces in the refrigerator, and to finish carving up the hanging carcass, we decided that the room-temperature meat would be more safely fed to the dogs. It just didn't smell or look quite right. He apologized, explaining that he'd never butchered a deer this early in the fall. I shrugged and assured him that what we had in the refrigerator (easily 25-30+ pounds) would be plenty. This was a learning experience, and I'd learned something important. Besides, with all the lambs and goat kids we're expecting to butcher this fall, I'm not sure how much spare freezer space we'll have anyway.

We spread the meat out on top of an old (dead) chest freezer that I've kept precisely for use as a butchering table. (We sanitized it with bleach water first, of course). We then cut up the large pieces of meat, filling gallon-sized Ziploc freezer bags about halfway each --- about the right amount of meat for a meal for our family. Since we'll end up simply throwing most of these in the Crock Pot, and then adding carrots and potatoes, I wasn't very particular about neatly slicing and packaging anything. Hunks of meat were fine. Finally, I took what was left on a rear shank and submerged it in a saltwater brine. I figure it'll make a really nice venison stew for our Sunday dinner this week. The Ziploc bags all went in the refrigerator to age for a few more days; I'll transfer them to the freezer this weekend.

And, in the meantime, I know the dogs will enjoy finishing up the fore quarters.

I can honestly say ... this is the first roadkill I've ever butchered. And the first that I'll be eating. I wouldn't have touched it had I not known its origins, and known personally how it died. But why let perfectly good and delicious venison go to waste?

Best part is: I was able to use this "bonus" carcass as a learning experience, without fear of ruining one of our perfect farm-raised animals. And, you know what the best thing is I've learned? Butchering a large mammal is now Something I Can Do.

27 June 2014

National 24-Hour Challenge 2014: Ride Report

Way off this blog's typical subject matter, but ultramarathon cycling has been a longtime passion of mine --- and in recent years has helped forge an important connection with my kids. Although it has nothing to do with farming, I wanted to share my "ride of a lifetime" experience participating in the National 24-Hour Challenge earlier this month.

The event is billed as a "personal best" challenge, not a race, and it's been held for over thirty years now. Riders come from all over the country, and from overseas, but most of the 300 or so participants live in Michigan or other Great Lakes states. The idea is to ride as many miles as you can in 24 hours, from 8am Saturday to 8am Sunday. Take as many breaks as you want, but the clock never stops ticking. Does that sounds intriguing? Crazy? Actually, it was an absolute blast.

And this is what I looked like at the end:

After every major cycling event, I try to write up a personal "ride report" while my thoughts are fresh. Years later, when I'm preparing to participate in that event (or a similar event) again, those notes often prove invaluable. My hope is that some other aspiring 24-Hour participant will find this report, and find my experiences useful. Be forewarned that I have deliberately included much more detail than a typical published ride report would include, and it is significantly longer than any other post I've put up, but I wanted to share everything that I wished I could have known before going off to participate in my own first N24HC.

Here we go:

24 June 2014

Wildlife

When a person begins raising livestock, it's remarkable how swiftly one's attitude toward wildlife --- especially potential predators --- changes. Overnight, "cute" becomes "Quick! Don't let it get away!" Especially after a time or two of witnessing the mayhem that those "cute" little critters are capable of inflicting. I'll never forget the mornings I've followed a trail of blood and feathers into a field, trying to locate the spot where a predator finished off his victim.

Several years back, when we were living in Illinois, our farm was separated from a small housing development by about a mile of open fields. One morning, while driving along the road running in front of that development, I noticed a new homemade sign. It read, "SLOW! BABY FOXES", and had an arrow pointing down to a culvert where a mother fox had made a den. My first thought was: Whoever made this sign so doesn't have livestock. My second thought was: I wonder how many of my chickens the mother fox will make off with to feed these babies. My third thought was: I wonder how many of my chickens these babies will make off with once they grow up.

Fortunately, we haven't been hit with predator strikes any time recently. But I did spot a raccoon in a large tree across the street a couple of nights ago, peering across at our farm, so I suppose it's just a matter of time. (I didn't have a clean shot at him, and he wasn't on our property anyway.) And while Homeschooled Farm Girl and I were out on a long bicycle ride this weekend, we saw a mother raccoon with six little ones run across the road in front of us. I made a mental note to re-bait and re-set our traps once I got home.

Needless to say, I got a smile out of this article that I recently stumbled across:

A man was biking to work one day when by the side of the road he noticed a poor fox that lay dying. Here is his account of what transpired:


I'm sure the person who posted it thought it was heartwarming. The overwhelming majority of people who commented on it certainly did. I'm also confident that few -- if any -- of them raise livestock.

And I suppose on one level this is a heartwarming story --- but don't blame me for being conflicted. I'm just hoping the fox in question gets to live out the rest of his days being cared for in a very secure zoo or other wildlife facility. Far from my farm.

17 June 2014

Chickens: Ten Weeks Later

Been awhile since I've posted, but spring is a crazy busy time on the farm. Butchering the meat chickens has been my biggest job lately, and we're finally down to the last handful. I find it's best to butcher no fewer than four and no more than six meat chickens per day. Fewer than that, and it's hardly worth the time it takes to set everything up, clean / sterilize the eviscerating table, etc. More than that, the scalding water begins to get too cold, my shoulders begin aching, and the flies really start to swarm.

I butcher the biggest chickens first, starting at about eight weeks of age. Most of them are males. After clearing them out, the pens become more spacious for the remaining birds --- and the females in particular have the chance to reach more of their growth potential. I don't weigh the fully-butchered birds, but each one gives us plenty of meat. Enough for our family and two guests, or enough for our family plus leftovers.

In case you're wondering why virtually everyone raises some version of Cornish Cross chickens for meat, and uses other breeds pretty much exclusively for eggs, here's a good picture of the size difference after ten weeks between a meat chicken and an egg chicken. I don't need to tell you which is which:


Here's another look inside the pen:


In the past, I would simply leave each butchered bird whole and freeze it that way. That's fine if you intend to roast each bird whole, which we used to do. But as time went on, we found we much preferred cooking the chickens in pieces (whether on the grill, or in some other way). Also, a cut-up chicken takes up a lot less room in the freezer than a whole chicken. Bottom line is, I'm now cutting each bird up into pieces as I butcher it. All the pieces go in a big pile as I work, and then I sort them at the end. In each gallon-sized freezer bag, I put: two drumsticks, two thighs, two wings, and two breasts. I tend to skin the breasts, but leave the skin on the other pieces. All the remaining carcases (and necks, and feet) go into a really large turkey-sized freezer bag, to be used later for soup (one big bag of carcass scraps makes one pot of soup). Then I take all the hearts and livers and put them in their own small package. It's taken years to settle on this approach, and for all I know I may refine it further next year, but for now it's perfect.

And freshly-butchered-and-grilled chicken sure tastes perfect. This was our Memorial Day dinner:


So, I should finish up butchering the last of the chickens in the next couple of days. Then we'll turn the egg pullets loose in the barn (they should begin laying this fall). And it'll be "mission accomplished" for the chicken tractors in the garden. (Fortunately, we didn't lose a single bird to predators.) Mrs. Yeoman Farmer will be able to plant her squashes very soon.

Note in the pictures above just how thick the grass is inside the pen. That's what it looks like when the pen is first moved to a new patch of ground. Now see what the ground looks like that they've already gone over (this view is looking north; our hay field is the long grass just beyond the garden fence):

No wonder it's called a "tractor" system. Here's another shot, looking the other direction, showing the other pen:

Just imagine how great those squashes will grow in this nice rich soil. Squash soup and roast chicken...now there's a combo for this fall.

07 May 2014

Gosling Adoption 2014

Last Thursday morning, we got a shipment of ten White Embden goslings from Murray McMurray Hatchery. There are cheaper sources, but we've been impressed with McMurray's service and quality. Above all, their website makes it very easy to know which birds are available on which days, and exactly when to expect those birds to arrive; other hatcheries are decidedly behind the curve on this. Given that we were raising a series of different types of birds, and planning their arrival around a couple of out-of-town trips, having a firm grip on the timing was worth a few extra dollars to me.

One gosling did die in the brooder over the weekend, but we had nine strong survivors as of this morning. The brooder, with its heat lamp, is an important way to get young birds off to a good start. It also gives a chance to get several days worth of high protein feed into the birds.

During colder times of the year, baby birds can spend up to two weeks in there as they develop feathers. We had a pretty chilly weekend, but things are now warming up, so today looked like a good opportunity to move the goslings outside.

They're still not feathered, of course, but we've found that the adult geese do such a good job mothering them...if the temperature outside is reasonable, the goslings will generally be fine. The mother geese "know" when it's too cold, and lead their little brood into the barn. At night, they draw the goslings into a tight bundle and keep them warm.

For the actual gosling turn-over, I first drove all the mature geese into the pasture. (We have more mature geese than usual, because I didn't get them all butchered last year. Thank the early, nasty winter for that.) I then brought the goslings out in a cardboard box, tipped the box over, and let the goslings stream out.

What happens next is always so much fun to watch, words don't really do it justice. The mature geese go into an absolute frenzy, surrounding the goslings, honking and shaking their feathers, as if conducting a fraternity hazing. This year, I managed to catch the event on video. (Apologies for the shakiness and rapid zooming in Part 1; I was still trying to figure out the controls on my new phone. I was also trying to follow them into the pasture.)

In Part 1, the goslings have just streamed toward the mature flock, and the flock goes crazy welcoming them:



Part 2 shows the middle and end of the welcoming ceremony. After this, the whole gaggle heads deep into the pasture to continue bonding:


As of right now, they're all still at the far end of the pasture. Almost all of the mature geese are busy grazing on fresh green swamp grass. The best, most reliable, most dedicated mother goose (a Gray Toulouse) has again volunteered for primary gosling duty: she has gone up on the sunny ridge with her little pack of yellow fuzz, where she can no doubt keep a watchful eye on everything.

Including me. I can't get anywhere near close enough for a picture now. Here's what I managed to snap when they were closer to the barn:
Why so blurry? Because these guys are in constant motion. Especially when they see me coming.

01 May 2014

How Did You Dispose of Your Christmas Tree?

Put it out for municipal trash pick-up? Burn it? Compost it?

We bought ours a couple days before Christmas, and got a terrific deal. 

Then, when the Christmas season ended, we fed that tree to the goats.
They loved it. And recycled it into milk.