02 December 2011

What's Wrong with this Picture?

Twice now, within the last week, the following has happened: I went out to the barn early in the morning, flipped on the lights, and a little black mouse has begun running all up and down the chicken area until it can disappear under cover. I then looked over at the eight (or however many...I can't even keep count of them anymore) barn cats, all of whom are camped out around the old table where Big Little Brother feeds them cheap cat food twice a day. And they look back, bored.

Sheesh, I think. Eight of you guys, and not one can be bothered to nab this mouse?

Seriously, maybe we need to feed them less. Or let Wilbur the dog start sleeping in the barn, so he can give these felines some lessons in mousing.

20 October 2011

Our Dog, the Cat

It's been cold, rainy, windy and generally nasty around here for the last several days, which has given very little to smile about. But who can't smile at a dog who's caught more mice in the last week than our barn cats have?

Wilbur has a great nose, and is a great digger. He unearthed and dispatched several moles this summer, and in the last few days has come up with two field mice. Just like a cat, he walks around with the mouse squirming in his mouth. Then he puts it down, watches it flop and stumble around, and plays with it until I approach. Then he picks the squirming, dog-spit-covered rodent back up, retreats a safe distance, and does the whole thing again. Eventually, he finishes the mouse off.

Now, if we could just get him to do his digging somewhere other than Mrs. Yeoman Farmer's garden...

09 October 2011

On Wheels

Homeschooling families are often asked "What do you do about sports?" It seems that this is the question we are asked second-most to all others. (Number One, of course, is "How are your kids learning to socialize with others?")

We've consciously decided to avoid the typical team sports that involve shuttling kids all over creation to attend practices, games, and tournaments. Sure, baseball, hockey, football and soccer have value and can be quite healthy. But the schedules can consume enormous amounts of time that could be better spent with family; we've seen this happen to a number of our friends.

Just living on a farm, our kids get plenty of exercise. But they also participate in a relatively unusual sport. What this is, and how it came to be, is the focus of a fun article I just had published on MercatorNet. It begins like this:
If it’s true that an addict is the last to recognize his own addiction, that may be especially so when the compulsion is ostensibly healthy. But rock bottom is rock bottom, and mine came on November 20, 1999 — appropriately enough, near the lowest geographic point in North America, on one of the country’s most isolated roads.
You can read the rest of the piece here.

And for those who have been asking about my plans for a second novel, I do have a story in the works. The general plotline is inspired by the events recounted in this MercatorNet piece. I've finished a complete first draft, and the editor (and other initial readers) have sent me suggested changes. I am in the process of incorporating those edits now; I am hoping to have a final version for publication sometime next year.

In related news, my first novel, Passport, is now available in e-book format through the Amazon Kindle Store(for just $2.99). Also, Amazon has temporarily reduced the price for the print edition to $13.45; it can be found by clicking on the image below.

05 October 2011

Protecting us from Ourselves

Hey, readers in Wisconsin: your state government is on the case, protecting you from any stupid decisions you might want to make about what you put into your own body. You know, like ... raw milk.

N.B. this is a crackdown extending even to those who've organized their farm to sell ownership sales to those interested in obtaining raw milk. Selling shares has been an effective traditional means of circumventing prohibitions on raw milk sales. If I own a share in the cow, the milk from the cow is mine and I'm free to drink it. I'm not buying or selling the milk. Just drinking what came from this cow that I'm a part owner of.

It would be one thing if the state wanted to protect ignorant consumers who might accidentally grab unpasteurized milk from the shelf at the grocery store. But these farm share owners, by the nature of the trouble they've gone to, have demonstrated themselves to be about as highly aware of the risks and benefits of raw milk as it's possible to be.

Raw milk has some pathogens which are potentially harmful if the milk isn't handled correctly? Yeah, yeah. I know that. But I'm an adult, a thinking and reasoning subject, who has decided that this product's benefits far outweigh any of those potential harms. And that this product is far superior to the chalk water that the dairy industry wants me to be stuck with.

Let's hope that at some point, government at all levels will get out of our way and let us make nutritional decisions like the free adults we are.

03 October 2011

Happy Endings

Living on a farm has its share disappointments ... but the unexpected joys often greatly outweigh them. As we prepare for Fall, I wanted to share two happy follow-ups to stories detailed earlier this year.

First, remember the chicks that our Barred Rock mother hen hatched out in a dark corner of the barn? Of the eight original hatchlings, only one died along the way. We gave one to a friend, leaving six. When mother hen first let the chicks spread their wings and go their own way, I was admittedly a bit nervous. The chicks didn't seem to have a clue as to what they should do without her leadership. I found myself going out to check on them several times a day, just to make sure they hadn't done something stupid.

Happily, twelve weeks after hatching, all six have survived and are now large juveniles. They've continued to be a distinct community within our larger flock, roosting together on the fence that separates the kidding pen from the rest of the goats. Interestingly, it was the same pen in which their mother hatched them. It'll be interesting to see how much longer they stick together; even during the day, they never tend to be far from each other as they forage across the property. Perhaps thanks to the upbringing their mother gave them, they seem to range much more widely and proactively than the other chickens. Here they were this morning (the sixth one is just out of the picture):

But, by far, the biggest and happiest success story is Puddles the Goat Kid. Rejected by her mother and nearly dead when we found her in the barn during a storm in March, longtime blog readers will recall how we revived her, bottle-fed her back to life, and then transitioned her to House Goat and finally Barn Goat. Well, Puddles is now a strong and healthy six-and-a-half month old member of the herd:

But she hasn't forgotten her beginnings. Whenever I call her name, she immediately responds by standing up, nickering in a particular way, and running to greet me. She's not the kind of annoying pet goat that follows humans everywhere. She's definitely bonded with the other goats, and knows she's a goat. But she also knows she's the one and only ... Puddles!

28 September 2011

What Have We Been Doing?

I apologize for the infrequent posting of late. Things have been busy here, but I owe you all an update. There's never a dull moment on a farm.

First off, can you believe this is Post Number Six Hundred? Many thanks to all of you who've been following us and our farming adventures all these years. Sometimes I get the sense that I've said everything that can be said, and that I don't have anything really new to talk about. Do my readers really want yet another post about pastured poultry pens? Or fences the goats have (again) broken through? But as long as you all are game for continuing to hear about our farm, I'll keep writing.

We've had a pretty bad year with turkeys. We started with about 20, and it's looking like we'll harvest no more than seven. Especially given how expensive the baby turkeys are, it's a pretty poor return on investment. We got 15 "surplus" heritage turkeys and 5 giant whites from a mail order hatchery this spring. The "surplus" deal is pretty good, as long as you're not picky; the hatchery sends a variety of heritage breed turkey hatchlings, basically leftovers not needed to fill orders from people who want a specific breed. It's actually a pretty good way to experience several different breeds, and it definitely makes things more fun. We got the giant whites, boring as they are, because it's always nice to have a few really big birds in the freezer.

Anyway, the poults did fairly well in the brooder, but turkeys are notorious for spending the first several weeks of their lives thinking up ways to die.  We moved them out to a pastured poultry pen for several more weeks, and lost a few more. By the time I turned them loose in the fenced goat area by the barn, we were down to five heritage turkeys (all Black Spanish) and four giant whites. I secured them each night in the barn, but a predator still managed to pick off one of the heritage birds. Another of them flew into the kennel and became a chew toy (and meal) for one of our dogs. Then, last week, one of the giant whites developed a serious leg problem; I butchered her on Monday, to make sure we got those 11# of meat before she got any worse.

Here are some of the ones we have left (note the significant size difference between the breeds):
So...are turkeys worth it? We never seem to get a good return on our money, no matter which hatchery we use. But I'll continue raising them, for a couple of reasons. First, there is absolutely nothing like roasting up your own turkey and serving it on Thanksgiving. We've been supplying the turkey for many years now, no matter where we've spent the big day, and it makes the feast special in a way that nothing else can. Even the year we were a thousand miles from home, in the process of adopting Yeoman Farm Baby, we took a turkey with us and the family we shared Thanksgiving with cooked it. Second, a turkey is a great size for serving when we have several visitors (or a large family) over for dinner. With both heritage turkeys and giant whites in the freezer, we can pick just the right size bird for the number of visitors. It's easy to roast, and there's never any shortage of meat.

For day-to-day meals, though, we've found that Cornish Cross broiler chickens are a far more practical size. One of them provides plenty of meat for our family, with some left over for lunches or soup. In the winter, we tend to roast them whole all afternoon in the Crock Pot --- but whenever the weather allows, we prefer to grill them outdoors.

We raised 25 broilers earlier this year, but lost over half of them along the way to predators or other "stupid stuff" like them piling up and suffocating each other during a thunderstorm. We also lost almost all of the replacement egg laying pullets we started at the same time. Faced with an aging and dwindling laying flock, and very few broilers in the freezer, I decided in early August that we should raise another batch before the weather turned cold.

I'm really glad we did. We got 25 more Buff Orpington pullet chicks, and we haven't lost more than one or two. By early next year, our egg production should kick into high gear. Likewise, almost all of the 50 cornish cross broilers have survived, and they're rapidly approaching optimal butchering size. Get a load of the size difference between the two breeds (all the birds in this pen are exactly the same age); this is why it makes so much sense to use Cornish Crosses, and not the males of an egg laying breed, as a primary meat bird:

We've spread the 70-75 surviving birds between three of our movable pastured poultry pens. Each pen is 4'x8', and I'm running all three of them along the edge of our hay field where harvesting hay is difficult. We try to move the pens every day; this supplies fresh greens for the birds' diet (a healthy supplement to the high protein feed which is their main source of calories), gets the birds off their manure, and ensures an even distribution of fertilizer along the field. It's a beautiful system. But here's what it looks like when we don't get around to moving the pen for an extra day:

Toward the right is what the weeds/grass look like after just one day. Toward the left is what happens if something keeps me from getting the pen moved. Note also how we've staggered these two pens as they're moving down the field.

Sometimes, I deliberately keep a pen in one place for extra time, to ensure the birds totally wipe out whatever is growing there. This pen, for example, is down in the impossible-to-cut corner of the hay field, where the grass is so long I can't even get a mower in there. The organic chicken tractor is taking those high weeds down and making sure they doesn't grow back for a long time:

The only problem with having 50 broiler chickens survive is that ... you have to butcher 50 broiler chickens. I try not to do more than five per day, or I tend to go crazy. And since I can't butcher every day, by the time I get to the last broilers they tend to be extremely large. To make sure I don't get too far behind the curve this time, I started butchering a couple of birds this week (along with that turkey with the leg problem), even though they're not optimal size yet.

But you know what? They were still a pretty good size for our family. We got a complete (and absolutely delicious) dinner of grilled chicken out of one of them last night, with a thigh left over for my lunch today. Which I will go in and enjoy momentarily.

But first, lest I leave you with the impression that our whole farm is livestock, I must tip my hat to Mrs. Yeoman Farmer (and the Yeoman Farm Children) for a smashingly successful year of gardening. I tried to capture as much of it as I could with one photo: the 400 row feet of potatoes at the top (which I am going to be enlisted to start digging soon), tomatoes and kale on the right (we cooked up some kale with our chicken last night...amazing), and squashes going a LONG way out of the picture to the far right. On the left is our bee hive, from which I will try to harvest honey this weekend. At the very bottom is a grape vine, clinging to the fence which separates the garden from the hay field (and the deer which run up and down it all year...except during hunting season.) In the background is my office; yes, I get this wonderful view every day as I do my work.

Here's a better shot of the squashes. We're going to be putting up a ton of these "winter keepers" in the pantry:

That's all for now! Thanks again to all who've been following us. I'm looking forward to sharing the next six hundred posts with you!

11 September 2011

Just a Couple More

If you're like me, you're probably "Nine-Elevened Out" and overwhelmed by the number of remembrances that commentators have been offering up in recent days. The History Channel in particular has been wall-to-wall with 9/11 for some time. (If you watch just one program, make sure you catch their "102 Minutes that Changed the World." It is phenomenal.) But if you'll indulge me, I'd like to offer just a couple of quick memories of my own.

By way of background, we'd just moved to our first farm, in Illinois, from California, a month and a half before 9/11. We were still figuring everything out, and hadn't even ordered our first batch of chickens. Our house was a couple of miles outside a town of 420 people, and about 7 miles from a town of 4,500. We'd met a handful of people, but still didn't have many friends. We'd decided not to hook up satellite TV, and were so far from the nearest broadcast tower that we couldn't even get signals from the antenna. We had dial-up internet, which was pretty slow.

I'd been in Washington, DC, on business the previous two days, speaking at a conference. I'd flown back to Chicago the afternoon of September 10th, and driven two hours home in my vintage Italian project car as the sun set over the prairie. Everything seemed perfect. Only after getting home did I discover I'd left my sports jacket on the plane. I called United Airlines, asked them to look for it, and went to bed late.

Tuesday morning I slept in, and it was lazy. Mrs Yeoman Farmer and the kids had gone to town for something, and I enjoyed having the house to myself. Sometime in mid-morning, I got around to signing onto AOL for the first time, to check email. I was puzzled by the welcome page, which said something about America under attack and the World Trade Center no longer being there. It seemed so outlandish, I dismissed it as some kind of speculative "what if" scenario. But after a little more browsing, I figured out what'd really happened. And was shocked to the core.

And I'd never so badly wished I had a TV. I switched on the radio, and tried to get some news, but even that reception was pretty bad. I then called Dish Network, and arranged to have satellite service hooked up. Something told me we were really going to want it in the coming days and weeks.

When MYF and the kids got home, we called one of the few friends we had in the town of 4,500 (a family from our parish). We asked if we could come over and watch TV, and they said "absolutely." We sped into town, and spent a couple of hours glued to the footage while our kids played with theirs. Particularly striking was the reaction the husband of this family had to the events. He was an auto mechanic, and about as strong a guy as you'll meet. He'd come home from work for lunch, and watched the news with us as he ate. As he was preparing to go back to work, even he had tears in his eyes.

Anyway, I'll cut right to the biggest thing that struck me about being in a rural community that day. The town of 420 had a Catholic church so small that it didn't have its own priest. The pastor from the larger town drove out twice a week to say Mass: once on Sunday, and once on Tuesday evening. I'd attended that Tuesday evening Mass pretty much every week, and there were usually about four or five other people in attendance. But on Tuesday the 11th, I counted fifty-five people in that little white frame building. It looked almost like a Sunday morning. Somehow, as the events of that day unfolded, a lot of people were getting the same idea: I need to get to church. I need to come together with other people. I need to pray. It was nowhere so pronounced as in that little town on that night. The sense of "togetherness" in that building was palpable.

Then, after Mass, as we began driving home, I spotted something strange: a long line of cars at the one gas station along the highway that cut through the town. There were so many cars, they were backed up for a long distance around the block. It looked like pure panic-buying of gasoline, but I couldn't help thinking if maybe all these people knew something I didn't. Would gas soon become scarce? Would prices go through the roof? I decided it'd be better to be safe than to be without gas, so I got in line and waited a half hour or whatever until I could top off my tank. All the employees were working to get people through quickly, but I had a chance to chat with one of them as our gas was pumping. "You could probably raise your prices and make a fortune," I commented. "Supply and demand, and all."

"Oh," she replied, almost taken aback, "we would never do that. We're just going to pump until there's nobody left or we run out of gas."

As I drove home, I reflected on how strikingly different this place was from Los Angeles. How much the community had come together. How much people seemed to be looking out for each other. And how very glad I was to be living here.

in the closet, I gave the pockets a closer inspection. And found that, in addition to my business cards, I'd also left my boarding ticket there. The date was printed right in the middle, and jumped off the paper at me: September 10, 2001.

I stopped and shook my head. September 10th seemed like an entirely different country, in an entirely different world. Everything, it seemed, had changed. And I was deeply grateful I'd be getting to spend the post-9/11 world in a rural community like the one we'd found.

19 August 2011

Out of the Nest (Updated)

About five weeks ago, we returned from vacation to a surprise gift: a barred rock hen had hatched out eight chicks in a dark corner of the barn. We've enjoyed watching them grow, and the mother hen did an outstanding job leading them all over the property foraging for bugs and seeds. It's truly entertainment that can't be purchased, and is part of what makes living on a farm so much fun.

There were a couple of nights that she tried to bed down with the chicks outside, but I forced her to take the brood into the barn each time. Last summer, we lost a couple of mother hens and well over a dozen chicks to predators; I didn't want a repeat experience this year. To my relief, after a couple of "corrections," mother hen stopped even trying to stay out for the night. All these weeks, only one of the eight chicks died. We loaned one other to a friend, leaving six to roam with Henny Penny.

In the last week or so, the chicks have gotten so big that they've been unable to squeeze through chain link fences. They're fully feathered, and looking like juvenile birds rather than chicks. Because of their size, they've sometimes gotten trapped behind a gate that their mother could fly over. But, up until yesterday, the whole little family managed to reconnect and forage together after each separation.

Then, overnight, something happened. When I came out at about 6:30am, the six chicks were outside, foraging for spilled grain near the duck pens...but mother hen was nowhere in sight. I doubt a predator got her; anything that takes out a big chicken usually takes out any little ones that are with it.

I think that something inside the hen's hormonal system just "clicked," and told her it was time to rejoin the flock's general population. But she looks so much like the other barred rocks, and we have so many of them, I can't be certain.

And I can't be certain that all six of the chicks will continue to thrive. Little birds have a way of flying into water tanks and drowning. Or getting lost in high weeds. Or bedding down in the wrong place and getting picked off by a predator. But I like to think that Mother Hen knew what she was doing, and has turned them loose because her instincts confirmed that the little ones were ready.

I'll keep an eye out for them, but something tells me that they're going to do just fine. They've had the best education a chicken can get.

Update: I went out at 9:30 tonight, to make sure the chicks weren't trying to bed down outside or in some other dangerous place (yes, we've seen young chicks try to roost on the edge of a water trough). Much to my relief, all six of them were back in the general area where they'd been hatched and where their mother had spent each night. Best of all, five of the six had figured out how to roost on top of a cattle panel that separates the main goat area from the kidding pen. Number Six was down on the floor in the kidding pen, back in the corner where they'd been hatched.

Interestingly, mother hen was nowhere to be found. She's definitely taken her hands off the bike and is letting the little ones pedal away on their own. And, so far, the six of them are sticking together and doing just great.

Kudos to mother hen for a masterful job brooding these guys. Mission accomplished!

04 August 2011

Just in Time

We recently had to take a yearling ram to the butcher, after his horn grew into (and gouged out) his right eye. It was a disgusting mess, but we'd intended to butcher him this fall anyway. Fortunately, the butcher was able to take him right away and spare the poor creature a long weekend of agony from the flies. We got the 39# of meat back yesterday afternoon, and will look forward to feasting on it.

Anyway, the yearling ram's situation spurred me to check our two mature breeding rams. Both have had problems with horns growing too close to their faces, and in the past we've had to cut horns short on both of them. Those horns are now growing back, and are getting to the length where they could cause problems. Ram #1 (Dilemma) was just fine; his horns are clearing his face with plenty to spare.

Ram #2 (who, I hate to admit, we have never gotten around to naming) was not so lucky. He's black, and his horns are black, so from a distance it'd been tough to see where the horns ended and the wool began. But once I caught him and ran my fingers along the horn, it was clear we had trouble. The horn was growing straight into the back of his jaw, on both sides. Left untreated, this was a death sentence.

My options were limited. The horns were already tight against the jaw, so he wouldn't last until the fall shearing date (when Lisa, our shearer, would be up from Indiana and able to help me cut the horns off). The nearest large animal vet is a long ways away, and would probably charge a lot. Dr. Patterson, the older dog-and-cat vet who looks at farm animals if you bring them to his office, wasn't an option; this was definitely an on-farm job.

I called Lisa and described the situation. It turned out that she needed to come to Michigan in the next week or so anyway, and would be just an hour or so from our farm. She agreed to make a detour, and to bring what we needed to remove the ram's horns.

Am I ever grateful she was able to get here so quickly. We did the job on Tuesday afternoon (there is a description of the procedure and some photos in this old post), and we were just in time. The horns were already scraping part of the ram's face raw, and the flies were having a field day laying their eggs in his flesh. Worse, the flies were migrating and laying eggs all over his neck and upper head. The more wool Lisa trimmed, the more pockets of maggots we found. She decided it'd be best to sacrifice his beautiful fleece and just shear him now, to make sure we uncovered everything.

With his wool out of the way, we easily found and sprayed every pocket of larvae. She then treated the open wounds with salve, and of course bandaged the horns we'd cut. The ram wasn't happy, and I know he won't thank us, but I think he will make a full recovery and be just fine.

This incident illustrates something else: the value of having a backup breeding animal. Early on, we tended to keep just one mature male for breeding and to castrate the young rams. Then we discovered that unexpected incidents can come out of the blue and take an animal's life --- leaving you and the flock in a tough situation. This is why we keep two mature rams; had we not discovered this horn problem until too late, and lost Ram #2, we'd still have Dilemma to ensure we have lambs next spring.

Finally, I just want to say again how deeply grateful I am that Lisa was available and willing to come see us on such short notice. I'm not sure what I would've done otherwise. Thanks!

03 August 2011

Welcome to the Conspiracy!

No, not the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. The unpasteurized dairy conspiracy! That's what the founder of a raw milk cooperative buyers club in California has been charged with. According to NaturalNews.com:
A multi-agency SWAT-style armed raid was conducted this morning by helmet-wearing, gun-carrying enforcement agents from the LA County Sheriff's Office, the FDA, the Dept. of Agriculture and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).

Rawesome Foods, a private buying club offering wholesome, natural raw milk and raw cheese products (among other wholesome foods) is founded by James Stewart, a pioneer in bringing wholesome raw foods directly to consumers through a buying club. James was followed from his private residence by law enforcement, and when he entered his store, the raid was launched.
InfoWars has more about the story, and the conspiracy charges. They also have a video of the raid.

Do I ever feel safer knowing that these dangerous conspirators have been taken off the streets. Good thing the Supreme Court recently ordered the State of California to release 46,000 felons early from prison; that'll ensure there's room to incarcerate Mr. Stewart and his henchmen.

Seriously, isn't California supposed to be the world capital of "Keep Your Laws Off My Body"? How about starting by keeping your laws off of what I want to put into my body?

After all, California was one of the first states to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. I'm all in favor of such measures, but tell me: Is raw milk any more dangerous, or any less medically beneficial, than cannabis?

23 July 2011

Garden Helper

We have a fairly simple division of labor on our farm: I manage the animals, and Mrs Yeoman Farmer manages the plants. MYF is usually very insistent that members of my "team" not intrude on and mess with her garden, and with good reason. Ever seen what happens when a dog discovers how nice it is to dig in freshly-tilled soil? Or when a flock of birds discovers bushes full of beautiful ripe tomatoes? We therefore built a tight fence around the garden, and patrol it diligently.

Then, this morning, MYF observed that our new mother hen was managing to squeeze through a tiny gap near the gate --- and her chicks were easily following her. MYF was about to shoo the hen out, but then she thought more about it. There are no more seeds that could be scratched out or uncovered. There is no fruit yet. The green tomatoes are probably unappealing. The potatoes are safely buried underground. Why not let Henny Penny take her brood on a bug-hunting safari?

So we did. She seems especially interested in the potato portion of the garden, which has lots of little insects hopping all over it.

I'm not sure we want to release the rest of the flock into the garden; some plants would be sure to get trampled. But for now, it's an awful lot of fun watching Henny Penny and her brood do "organic pest control" for us.

21 July 2011

Emergency Butchering

Strange things happen when you're away from a farm for nine or ten days.

We have twin yearling sheep, born late last spring. Neither was of butchering size last fall, so we decided to keep the female as a breeder and to butcher the male this coming fall. The female is as strong and healthy as can be, but the male recently developed a problem: his right horn began growing toward his face.

When we left on vacation early this month, the horn still seemed to have plenty of clearance; it was something to keep tabs on, but it didn't seem to require immediate action to cut off.

Imagine my dismay when we got home, settled back in, and I got my first good look at him. And discovered that the horn was not just pressing against his face --- it was growing straight into his right EYE.

I immediately grabbed some bolt cutters and lopped off the end of his horn, but the damage had unfortunately been done. His eye looked irreparably injured. He didn't like it, but I did my best to clean the eye socket up with hydrogen peroxide.

We kept close tabs on him in the ensuing days. Despite the mangled eye, he seemed to be getting around just fine. He came in and out, and grazed with the rest of the flock. We continued to plan to butcher him this fall.

Then, especially with the arrival of the recent heat wave, we began having second thoughts. He started going AWOL, hanging out by himself on the ridge (and down by the swampy area) on the far end of the pasture a lot. Last night, he didn't come in at all. I spent a lot of time searching the pasture with a spotlight, but couldn't find him anywhere. I worried that the heat had become too much for him, or that he'd gotten dangerously dehydrated, or that a predator had overtaken him. Surviving 95F and humidity is tough enough for us humans; imagine if you're wearing a wool coat and battling an eye injury on top of it!

This morning, I found him hunkered down along the fence by the swampy area. His coat was a mess, but he jumped to his feet as he saw me approach. When he began trotting away along the ridge, I grew even happier. Being spry enough to run away is a very, very good thing. He ran all the way up the hill to the barn, which really got me feeling optimistic.

And then, once I'd cornered him in the barn and grabbed him, I realized we had a problem. A big one. With the heat, flies had evidently been swarming all over his injury. All around the socket, I could see the quivering of tiny larvae. It turned my stomach, and I knew we had to do something.

Given that the heat would only be making the situation more miserable, and that trying to clean out the injured socket would probably bring only temporary relief, and that we'd been planning to butcher him anyway, and that he was now of a nice butchering size...it was fairly evident what course of action we should take.

The problem is that the local slaughterhouse where we take our animals only does sheep on certain days of the week. I figured I'd have to wait until next Monday or Tuesday to get him in, and a quick call over there confirmed that. I certainly didn't want to try butchering him myself in 95 degree weather (just imagine the flies!), but I wasn't sure he'd survive the weekend. And even if he did, he'd be miserable.

I described the situation to the woman who'd answered the phone, and she quickly put the shop owner (Jack) on the line. "How quickly can you get him over here?" Jack asked. They were done slaughtering for the week, but he was just finishing up a cow and said he'd have time to squeeze my sheep in today...if I could get him right over.

This is why I love patronizing Mom and Pop businesses.

Homeschooled Farm Boy and I put a tarp down in the back of our minivan, loaded up the injured animal, and set off for the butcher. Once there, Jack met us around back and helped unload him into a holding pen. We thanked him repeatedly for getting the sheep in on such short notice, and then drove home.

It's unfortunate we weren't able to get the sheep through to this fall, but I really don't think he would've put on much more weight between now and then. I'm just very grateful that we identified the seriousness of the injury before it got to be too late, that the sheep will not have to endure the heat and flies this weekend ... and that we were able to add 40-50 pounds of excellent meat to our freezer.

17 July 2011

New Arrivals

My apologies for the slow posting of late; our family just returned a few days ago from a big vacation in my home town of Seattle. It's remarkable we were all able to get away from the farm for so many days in the middle of summer, but the trip was a big one and we'd been planning it for nearly a year. What made it possible was finding a friend we could trust to come take care of our animals (including milking three goats) twice a day.

It never ceases to amaze me how much can change on a farm in just nine days. The growth in the garden was dramatic, especially the potatoes. (And the weeds!) But what really struck me was how much larger the ducklings, goslings, and turkey poults are, and how much more feathered they had become. The goslings are still smaller than the mature geese, of course, but are nearly as well feathered:

I'm going to be turning the female ducklings loose in the next couple of days. We'll keep the drakes in these moveable pens until they reach butchering size in a few weeks.

The biggest surprise, however, was in the deepest and darkest corner of the barn. Back in the kidding pen, a Barred Rock hen had made a nest...and hatched out eight little chicks!

She's been taking them for walks, and I managed to get a little video. Her deep, reassuring clucks --- and the chicks' eager little peeps --- are priceless:

I could watch them for hours. And it's so blisteringly hot here, I'm not sure I want to do anything more strenuous than watch the poultry grow.

24 June 2011

Something You Knew Already

This story won't come as any surprise to followers of this blog, but it's always encouraging when the "hard" sciences provide evidence to back up what we know:

Scientists have confirmed what every urbanite has long suspected – life in the city is more stressful.

Researchers have shown that the parts of the brain dealing with stress and emotion are affected by living among the crowds.

The findings help shed light on why those who are born and raised in urban areas are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and schizophrenia than those brought up in the countryside.

The team of international scientists behind the finding are unsure why city life is so bad for the nerves.

However, past studies have shown that exposure to green space reduces stress, boosts health and makes us less vulnerable to depression. The findings come from the brain scans of 32 healthy volunteers from urban and rural areas.

Go read the whole thing.

To be fair, we've found that life in the country isn't exactly stress-free, either. Livestock and gardens produce stresses of their own. Whenever you're trying to cultivate or nurture living things, life is unpredictable and can lead to worries or difficulties: A surprise late frost wipes out your seedlings. A surprise early frost destroys the tomatoes you were going to can for a winter's worth of sauce. The barn cat finds a way to go hunting in your poultry brooder, and feeds five baby turkeys to her kittens. (Five baby turkeys that, I might add, every hatchery is now sold out of for the year).

But would I trade these stresses for those of a city? Not on your life. I visit Chicago, DC, and NYC frequently enough on business; I certainly enjoy the change of pace, and appreciate the resources that cities can provide, but you can see in the faces of passersby the toll that day-to-day urban stress wrecks. I'm always more than happy to return home to the quiet of my farm.

I'd a million times rather deal with the stresses of livestock and a garden than with the stresses of city life. Worrying about the garden getting enough rain, or whether enough broilers will survive to maturity, is entirely different from worrying about whether your packed commuter train will get you to work on time. Because when you've worked through and solved the "rural stress," you get to enjoy the wholesome and delicious fruits of your labors. But when you've survived the "urban stress," all you've done is successfully gotten to work in a high rise in a concrete jungle.

I'll take the literal jungle of my pasture over that any day of the week.

08 June 2011

Gosling Initiation

We've been raising a batch of ducklings and goslings in the brooder for the last two weeks, and are preparing to move them to a pasture pen (as soon as I can butcher the last four broilers that are in it...hopefully this afternoon).

Given our past success with gosling adoption, I decided to take six of the new ones out to our flock of mature geese. As I approached, they backed away warily. Then, the instant I set the box of goslings down and released the little ones, the entire mature flock began honking at the top of their lungs. The goslings sprinted toward the big birds, the big birds gathered around the little ones, lowered their necks, and continued honking. And honking. And honking.

I went to the house and got a camera. They were still honking when I returned, initiating the little ones into the Fraternity of Goose. I managed to get this brief video:

A half hour later, they've quieted down. But it looks like we may have pulled off another successful gosling adoption. Given how much grass is out there, it's good to have all the more beaks at work now on the ground.

Puddles Grows Up

I've been swamped with work (and trying to stay ahead of the grass which never seems to stop growing), but wanted to give a quick update. Puddles the Goat Kid is now nearly three months old, and thriving:

Her broken leg has completely healed, thanks to an outrageous amount of duct tape. I still bottle feed her a couple of times a day, which provides a good use for the milk that we can't use (because goats stepped in it during milking, etc.). She bleats and comes running when I call her. But otherwise, she's integrating well into the rest of the herd, and spends all her days with them in the pasture. Given where she started from, 95% dead on the floor of a frozen barn in mid-March, and then with a broken leg, her current condition qualifies as pretty much miraculous.

Sadly, I can't say the same thing for Ellipsis the Lamb. We gave it everything we could for her, but she was not able to integrate with the flock (no bummer lamb we've had ever has been able to do it). She was more a pet than anything else, and I bottle fed her several times a day, but something wasn't right in her little system. I'm not sure if it's because she was eating too much stuff other than milk at too young an age. Or what. But a few weeks ago, we found her dead out in the pasture. She'd been looking a little bloated earlier that day, but had seemed to be getting around okay. And then, just as suddenly, she wasn't.

It was very sad, particularly since she was the last of Dot's line and we'd really wanted to keep her. But such is farm life, especially when livestock are involved. You give everything you have, as a good shepherd and steward. Sometimes they thrive. Sometimes they don't. It's a great mystery, and I certainly don't claim to understand it. We just keep plugging away, and keep doing everything we can for our little flock.

02 June 2011

Civic Pride

It's well known that Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I much prefer country and small town life to that in even a medium sized city. But cities have their place, and can be valuable for the resources they provide and their opportunities to connect with others.

Some time back, a national magazine put our state's second largest metro area on its list of "America's Dying Cities." But rather than taking the designation laying down, the people of Grand Rapids responded by putting together what may be the most remarkable production of community and civic pride we've ever seen:

Videos don't embed well on my blog, because of the narrow text template. This link will let you watch it on YouTube. If you haven't seen it yet, make sure you watch it. It is truly amazing.

An NPR story supplies more of the backstory of the video, and is definitely worth reading.

Much has been written in recent years about the decline in American "social capital." Technological changes, such as television, have led to the dissolution of traditional means (such as civic organizations) by which people used to connect with one another. That may be true, but productions such as this one demonstrate that it doesn't always have to be. Perhaps particularly in smaller cities such as Grand Rapids, there is still a thriving base of social capital; productions like this one couldn't be made without it.

And as closely as I watched it, I found no one in the video who was "bowling alone."

17 May 2011

My Idea of Civil Disobedience!

Remember that Amish farmer who the FDA has been treating like some kind of drug lord? His customers are fighting back:

Four weeks after the government moved to shut down Amish farmer Dan Allgyer for selling fresh, unpasteurized milk across state lines, angry moms who made up much of his customer base rallied on the Capitol’s grounds Monday to demand that Congress rein in the food police.

The moms milked a cow just across the street from the Senate and served up gallons of fresh milk, playfully daring one another to drink what, if sold across state lines, would be considered contraband product.

What a terrific protest idea! If we still lived in the DC area, I would've shown up and joined them with one of our goats.

The video these moms put together is terrific:

And, as one of them points out, just look at those kids and how healthy they are!

12 May 2011

When All Else Fails

Try duct tape!

Seriously, that's the lesson you learn pretty quickly on a farm. We bought a large bulk pack of it at Sam's Club some time back, and I'm glad to never have a shortage.

It proved itself particularly handy a little over a week ago. About two weeks ago, Puddles the Goat Kid somehow managed to break her left rear leg, down close to the foot. I tried splinting and bandaging it, but the whole thing came off in fairly short order. She didn't seem to be in a lot of pain, and was getting around well on three legs, but I didn't want to leave the leg untreated.

So, a week ago Tuesday, I took her to the vet to have it done "right." I figure we've spent enough time and effort (and milk) bottle-feeding her, we might as well invest a little more in getting her leg correctly set. Puddles was a huge hit in the waiting room, and got lots of attention from those with dogs and cats. It took a long time for the vet to get to her, but he splinted and bandaged her leg beautifully. I left his office confident that Puddles would heal nicely, and that our $60 was well spent.

And then, last Wednesday afternoon, the splint was off. Yes, the whole thing had simply slid off her leg. I took her and it back to the vet on Thursday, waited for a long time with lots of dog-and-cat people, and he re-splinted her leg but with more bandages and tape. And only charged me $10.

And, by 6pm, the whole thing had slid right back off her leg.

Rather than spend my Friday morning back at the vet's office, I recruited one of the Yeoman Farm Children to help me splint Puddles's leg myself. I'd watched the vet enough times now to understand the general principles --- and watched Puddles lose the splint enough times to know I had to do something different as well.

And that something was DUCT TAPE. I splinted and bandaged the leg much as the vet had (fortunately, her leg was already starting to fuse, so it wasn't necessary to align the bone). Then, I basically mummified the entire thing with duct tape --- and didn't stop at her knee. I kept wrapping her, all the way up to mid-thigh. "Just try slipping this thing off!" I told her, as she limped across the floor of my office.

Guess what? Nearly one full week later, the splint is still in place! This isn't the greatest photo, but it was a dark corner of the barn and she was a perpetual motion machine (every time I knelt to take a picture, she'd rush toward me). But this gives some idea of what her leg looks like:

And Puddles is doing much better. She's actually trying to rear up and place weight on both of her rear legs. I'll keep it on her for the next week or so, to make sure it's healed, but I'm very optimistic.

And now an even bigger believer in the power of duct tape.

02 May 2011

TYF Had a Little Lamb

To farm is to embrace a lifestyle of great joys...and great sorrows. And, more often than not, the joys and sorrows are intertwined and inseparable from one another.

Recent posts have detailed the great sorrow our family experienced with the decline and death of our sheep flock's matriarch, Dot. But wrapped up in that sorrow (in fact, arguably, the cause of it) was a great joy: Dot's lamb, which we named Ellipsis.

The little Dot-Dot-Dot has not only survived. She has thrived. And she's clearly adopted me as her surrogate parent. She lives with the other sheep in the barn, and plays with the other lambs, but when I appear she drops everything and runs to me. Because she knows what I've got.

Even after the feeding is over, she finds ways to squeeze through fences and gates to tag along as I take care of the other chores. Sometimes she'll even follow me all over the property. I don't really mind, as it's some consolation after losing Dot. And I know she'll grow out of it.

Most amusing was Saturday evening. We had some friends over, and had planned to grill a big platter of lamb chops. Ellipsis spotted me as I fired up the grill, and broke out of the barn. She followed me all the way to the house, just like the dog did. And then, once I had the platter of chops, she and the dog followed me all the way back down to the grill.

As I put the chops on the grill, I assured her that this would never be her fate. She gets to stay with us as a breeder for the rest of her life.

Which, we hope, is as long and happy and productive as her mother's.

29 April 2011


There are dangerous criminals among us. But you'll be relieved to know that the federal government is on the case, and busy getting them off the streets:
A yearlong sting operation, including aliases, a 5 a.m. surprise inspection and surreptitious purchases from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania, culminated in the federal government announcing this week that it has gone to court to stop Rainbow Acres Farm from selling its contraband to willing customers in the Washington area.

The product in question: unpasteurized milk.

It’s a battle that’s been going on behind the scenes for years, with natural foods advocates arguing that raw milk, as it’s also known, is healthier than the pasteurized product, while the Food and Drug Administration says raw milk can carry harmful bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria.

But this line from the story jumped out the most:
It is the FDA’s position that raw milk should never be consumed,” said Tamara N. Ward, spokeswoman for the FDA, whose investigators have been looking into Rainbow Acres for months, and who finally last week filed a 10-page complaint in federal court in Pennsylvania seeking an order to stop the farm from shipping across state lines any more raw milk or dairy products made from it.

What????? Raw milk should never be consumed? Kind of makes you wonder how the human race survived, drinking that toxic "udder brew," for so many millennia. In fact, I poured about a cup and a half of that poison onto my cereal this morning. I'm surprised I feel so healthy and vibrant, and that I haven't collapsed under E. coli-induced convulsions. Even more remarkably, I've been poisoning myself in this way for weeks now --- ever since our goats freshened --- and in fact feel healthier than ever. No doubt the other ten million raw milk drinkers in this country (and the countless other millions around the world) would agree.

To paraphrase something Ronald Reagan once said about his political opponents: The trouble with our friends at the FDA is not that they're ignorant; it's just that they know so much that isn't so.

And, I would add, that they have so much power to prosecute and crush the small farmers who dare supply a healthy product to the willing consumers who seek it.

22 April 2011

End of the Road

Poor Dot.

Despite all our efforts, and the best work of our vet, she never got her appetite back. She was still alive this morning, and I gave her an injection of antibiotic. Drenched her with lots of apple cider vinegar and warm water. Wiped the mucus from her nose. Expressed as much of the junk from her udder as I could. Told her what a good sheep she was. But she was clearly just barely hanging on.

The most interesting part of the last few days was watching the bond re-establish between Dot and her lamb. Although Dot had "officially" rejected the lamb, she grew too tired to drive the lamb away any longer. The two of them slept together, and the lamb tagged along everywhere Dot went. I was providing the nutrition, but Dot was still clearly her mother figure and companion.

Then, just a few minutes ago, Homeschooled Farm Boy was in the barn milking. He came to my office saying that Dot had gone down and wasn't moving. I ran to the barn, but she was already gone. The saddest part was the little lamb, still standing by her, trying to figure out what was going on.

I just wish I could've been there when it happened.

I know we did all we could for her. But it looks like I'm going to be spending this miserable, cold, rainy Good Friday afternoon out in the pasture digging a grave. We'll have to pick a good spot. Maybe near Scooter and Tabasco, close to the route the sheep use going in and out from their paddock to the pasture.

If there's any bright spot in all of this, it's that the lamb is healthy and that Dot will have a final legacy. No matter what her physical conformation to breed norms, we're keeping her as a breeder. And now we need to name her!

I'm leaning heavily toward "Ellipsis." Dot. Dot. Dot. Trailing off, into a new beginning.

21 April 2011

A Happier Birthday

Things were not looking good for our flock's matriarch, Dot, last night, on the eve of her twelfth birthday.

I went out to milk her one last time for the evening, hoping to relieve the pressure on the rock-hard left side of her udder. Because I wanted to save some money on milk replacer, I decided to put a pan under her and catch as much milk as I could.

Even though I used lots of hot compresses to loosen up her udder, Dot still hated being handled. I'm glad we had a stanchion to lock her into, because she fought every time I squeezed her udder. Eventually, I decided to call it a night and give her a break. There wasn't much coming out, it was late, and she seemed like she'd had enough.

I put her back in the pen with her lamb, then took the milk into the house to refrigerate. And then I realized something was seriously wrong with Dot. Instead of milk, her udder had been expressing a watery substance heavily tinged in dirty red blood. I knew it meant some kind of infection, probably mastitis, and that we were now in over our heads. Still, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer had a couple of herbal remedies to try: homeopathic pokeweed tablets, and a jar of pokeweed oil rub.

I gave Dot a tablet, then rubbed and massaged her udder with the oil. She didn't like it, and I had to block her against the wall, but I knew I had to persist. Gave her another tablet, then rubbed more oil into her. Then did it a third time, and called it a night.

The treatment didn't clear up the infection, but at least Dot was alive in the morning. She still had no appetite, but wanted to be let out of the separating pen. She led me straight to the main sheep area, so I let her rejoin the flock. Within a few minutes, she'd led her lamb outside to the sunshine.

Given the seriousness of Dot's infection, I knew she needed more attention than I could provide. We don't have a large animal vet in the area who does house calls, but there's a veterinary clinic that will see farm animals case-by-case if they're brought in. Judging from how confused and amused the young receptionist was when I walked in and explained why I was there, they don't get many sheep.

The clinic owner, Dr. Patterson, is an older vet, who retired from farm calls several years ago. I waited with Dot in the van until he was able to come see her. I explained what'd been going on, and showed him what I'd milked out of Dot's udder the night before, and he immediately diagnosed a serious mastitis infection. He gave her an injection of B-complex vitamins, and 10cc of antibiotics. He sent the rest of the bottle home with me, and said she should get another 10cc every day --- and that I should continue trying to milk that "junk" out of her udder.

After we'd taken care of that, Dr. Patterson smiled, relaxed, and lit a cigarette. We stood there in the sunshine talking...and for just a moment, the parking lot full of dog and cat owners' cars seemed to disappear. I could see in his eyes how much he missed seeing and treating livestock, even if he no longer had the energy and wherewithal to put 40,000 miles on a car going to visit farms.

"I think we might just be able to save this old girl," he said with a grin, rubbing Dot's back.

I paid him, then drove the old birthday girl back home. She rejoined the rest of the flock, and at first seemed mildly better than in the morning. But she wouldn't touch the hay I put down, and didn't even sniff at the grain I offered her. As the rest of the flock barged in and went crazy getting to the hay, the contrast with Dot's condition couldn't have been more stark. That's what Dot's supposed to be doing, I thought.

I drenched Dot with a couple hundred more CCs of apple cider vinegar and warm water, and included some cod liver oil, before going back to work. An hour or so later, she was out in the sunshine with her lamb --- but still not at all interested in food. I helped her to her feet, and led her to the hay, but she wouldn't even look at it. Or the grain I offered.

She needed liquids and nutrition really badly, so I tried offering her the lamb's milk bottle. She wouldn't even suck. But then I got an idea: Dot, you're getting some food in your stomach one way or the other. I went in, warmed up some goat milk, and returned with it and my drenching syringe. I managed to get 3 full syringes of 50cc each straight down her throat. I also put her against the barn wall and, despite her protestations, expressed as much "junk" out of her udder as I could.

Will she make it? I honestly have no idea. It all depends on whether her appetite returns, and how soon. In the meantime, we're treasuring every additional day of her reign as matriarch of the flock.

20 April 2011

The Leader of the Band is Tired...

...and her eyes are growing old.

Poor Dot.

She turns twelve tomorrow, and it's not looking like it's going to be a very happy one. I'm not sure what "twelve" translates into in people years, but it's a lot. Certainly far beyond the age when anyone should be having a baby and then getting pregnant with twins just two months later. She's just plain burned out, and I fear we may have entered a tailspin from which we cannot extract her.

Dot has "leader sheep" genetics, and it's always shown. The flock takes its cue from her, and if we can get her headed in the right direction they will almost always follow her. When the flock is spooked, or nervous, they will all bunch up in a pack behind her. For instance, when we drive them into the barn on shearing day, it's remarkable the way she stands out in front while the rest of the flock cowers at her tail. Even this morning, when I led her to a private pen, the whole flock began bellowing in protest as she exited the main sheep area.

I'm beginning to suspect that Dot rejected her lamb because her body is telling her she doesn't have the resources to care for the little one. But that's led to a problem: her big udder is now completely engorged, and it can't be comfortable. I've begun trying to milk her out, to relieve the pressure, but the udder is like a rock. It's hard to get anything flowing. I've even begun putting the lamb back on her, to see if she'll have any more success. As a measure of how lethargic Dot has become, she doesn't even protest or try to butt the lamb away. As the lamb suckles, I stroke Dot's drooping neck and tell her what a good sheep she is.

I've never seen her like this. She won't rise to her feet without help. Once on her feet, she does little but hang her head. She sniffs at her hay, but doesn't eat. She won't even eat grain, and she's always loved grain. She did nibble down some kelp meal. On our breeder's advice, I've tried giving her some warm milk. She won't drink it from a pan, so I've resorted to feeding her from the bottle before I feed the lamb.

My jeans and sweatshirt are filthy from all the time I've spent on my knees, trying to assist her and extract milk. I smell like lanolin and cruddy hay. But I don't care. I just wish there was more I could do to help.

She has a small fever, but it's not really bad. The biggest issue right now, beyond the engorged udder, is her appetite. We're trying to get anything we can "down the hatch" and into her system: kelp meal, dolomite powder, and vitamin C. I put the powders into an old film canister, tip her head back, pry her mouth open, and toss the minerals down. I then "drench" her three or four times with a 50cc syringe filled with apple cider vinegar, warm water, and cod liver oil.

On a farm, animals come and go. You learn quickly not to get attached to them, and mostly we've succeeded. But there are exceptions. Big ones. Especially the dogs, and certain of the barn cats; it's really hard to lose them, because they're companion animals. The livestock are not companions, but Dot has always been in a category of her own. Not only is she the leader, and the oldest, but she was in our very first group of four sheep. Nearly every adult in our flock can trace its genetics back to her.

It's going to be very hard to let her go, and I just wish we had more time to get used to the idea. So...I'd best be getting out to the barn and seeing if I can get some more milk out of her udder before bed. And see if we can get her just one more birthday on our farm after this one.

17 April 2011

Lamb Concern (Updated)

After the amazement of Dot's delivery last night, the reality of the situation is setting in --- and it's not looking great.

First off, the male (black) lamb is much smaller than his (white) sister. As noted yesterday, I thought the male had been born dead. But he did manage to get up and walk...and, multiple times, get through the fence into the chicken area. So did the white lamb.

This happened, in large part, because Dot wasn't very much interested in either lamb. She didn't call to them, or urge them to nurse, or anything else. It didn't seem like she was rejecting them (we've seen that and know what it looks like), but more like she was just plain tired. She seemed content to simply lay on the floor and chew her cud, while the lambs wandered off. I turned off the lights, hoping that with darkness they'd be less adventure-prone.

Didn't help. I had to search all over for them this morning, and neither was near Dot. But at least, I thought, they're strong enough to walk. I had Homeschooled Farm Girl help me move Dot and both twins into the now-empty goat kidding pen. I figured that would help the three of them bond more effectively, especially since we had to be gone for much of the day and couldn't keep close tabs on them.

I tried to get the little black lamb to nurse. He definitely seemed interested, but once the teat was in his mouth he would just sit there. No suckle. He got a little bit, but then Dot started moving. The bigger lamb was much more active, and much better at suckling. She took quite a bit.

After doing some other chores, and helping to get the kids ready for church, I made another stop in the barn to help get the lambs tanked up. The little black one was just so small and weak, he wouldn't even suckle. We had to leave, so I didn't have the chance to do more for him. I will try to get something into him with a dropper this evening, but it wouldn't surprise me if we lose him.

Big sister, by contrast, again nursed well --- at least when I held Dot in place. But Dot was starting to act irritated at both of them, almost like she wanted to reject them. It became a huge struggle to keep Dot from walking away when I put either of them on a teat. I'm hoping they work it out today while we're gone, but I'm mentally preparing myself to bottle feed them all the way. Especially since, in an email exchange with our breeder, we learned that these old ewes often don't produce nearly as much milk as they did when younger.

I'll close this "downer" update with something more amusing: while I was out of the barn this morning, and Dot was busy eating hay, both lambs somehow found their way into the corner of the pen, where a barn cat has been raising three little kittens. When I came back, the mother cat was away, but all five babies were curled up together in a big inter-species pile! One of those priceless scenes I really wish I'd had a camera to capture. The kittens even cried when I took the lambs away. Maybe they'll be back there when we return home this morning...

Or maybe the barn cat will adopt the little black lamb! That would solve everything. And put us in a record book somewhere.

We got home, to a mixed scene. The black lamb, unfortunately (but not unexpectedly), had expired sometime during the day. The white lamb was doing well, but Dot did seem to have rejected her. I managed to hold Dot steady long enough for the lamb to get a good meal; one advantage of Dot's advanced age is that she no longer has the strength to fight me and escape the way she used to. Her udder seemed quite large and full, so milk production doesn't seem to be a problem.

I'm not crazy about going out to hold Dot for nursing several times a day, and we may end up bottle feeding eventually. But for now, the lamb needs the colostrum. And we'll do whatever's necessary to help her along.

16 April 2011

Totally Unexpected

She turns twelve next week. She had an oddball out-of-season lamb out in the pasture last September. Who ever would've thought that Dot, the grande damme of our flock, would've come into season just two months later? And then, today, drop these beautiful twins:

The white one is a female, and the black one is a male. At first the black one appeared to be stillborn, but when I tried picking him up he started moving a little. Fortunately, our shearer (Lisa) was here and had just finished shearing the flock. She picked up the little lamb, held him upside down, and then swung him in a manner that cleared his airway. The white one was in much better shape, and was already lifting her head to get up, but Lisa swing her in the same way just to make sure.

When Lisa arrived this afternoon, Dot had just begun going into labor. It was a shock, as we didn't even know she was pregnant. Her frame is large, and her udder is always big, and she's been moving stiffly for a while now; I hadn't been able to put two and two together. But there it was, a "bloody show" hanging out of her rear end.

It wouldn't have surprised me at all if she'd been miscarrying; I really didn't expect a mature lamb...let alone two.

One thing Lisa found surprising was how interested Dot was in eating hay during the labor. An ewe's appetite usually shuts down. But Dot seemed to take the whole thing in stride...which I suppose makes sense, given the number of times she's done this. But it was still amusing watching the way she ate, totally oblivious to the bloody show hanging out of her rear. And then the ease with which the two lambs slid out, and how nonchalant she seemed. She sniffed the lambs, then went to get more hay, then licked them a little, then went for more hay. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

We put both lambs together, and surrounded them with scraps from Dot's own fleece. We also closed up the barn, as it's quite cold and blustery outside.

I'll check on them again before we go to bed tonight, but I'm not really worried. They're in good hands (or hooves, as it were).

Best. Sheep. Ever.

07 April 2011

Head Count

It was chaos in the sheep area when I went out to close it up for the night. Of the eight lambs we've had born so far, six are almost entirely black and a seventh is mostly black. Only one is mostly white. All the black lambs are about the same age and size. The challenge is trying to get an accurate head count while all these little guys are swarming and weaving in and out among the various adults.

Over and over I counted, and I kept coming up with seven. I could've sworn we'd had eight lambs born so far, but it's becoming a blur. Maybe it was only seven. Or was it eight? As I secured the barn, I began composing an update to the previous blog post in my head. It was going to start out, "Okay. So, I can't add."

But what if I was wrong about being wrong? What if it really was eight? Why was I only coming up with seven? I stopped, stepped away from the chaos, and calmly reviewed what I knew to be true. Conundrum, Bianca and Maybelle each had a single. Three. Licorice had triplets. Six. And we had twins born today. Eight. Eight. But I can only find seven lambs!

I jogged into the house and retrieved my big pistol grip spotlight. (As noted last summer, this is a truly essential tool when living in the country.) I ran back to the fenced-in area outside the sheep area, and swept the spotlight across the whole thing.

And, within seconds, I spotted him. Number Eight. He was pure black, and had curled up in an old rubber feed bowl for the night. I never would've seen him with just the light coming from the barn. As I lit him up, he lifted his head and looked at me, but didn't make a sound. It took just a few more seconds to run to him, lift him into my arms, and carry him back around to barn's main entrance (I'd of course already secured the sheep door from the inside).

And that was that. The parable of the Lost Sheep, come to life. Lots to think about and contemplate; even if I might sometimes lose count and get confused from time to time, the Good Shepherd never will. And that Good Shepherd is infinitely more concerned about my welfare and security, and is prepared to go much farther to bring me back to safety, than I ever could for a member of my own little flock.

Seven and Eight

Our seventh and eighth lambs arrived earlier today, courtesy of one of Maybelle's daughters:

Both are males, and both are doing nicely so far.

I don't think we ever settled on a name for this mother ewe. By tradition, she needed "belle" as part of her name, but we never came agreement beyond that. It's her second lambing, and she's looking to be as prolific as her mother.

Five ewes have delivered, meaning our lambing percentage is at 160% so far this year; 150% is the standard we like to shoot for, so we're doing well. Two more ewes have yet to deliver, not counting Dot (who turns twelve on April 21st of this year). We're not counting on the old girl to lamb this year...but who knows?

06 April 2011

Lambing Continues

In April on our farm, every morning is like Christmas morning; you're never quite sure what new gift will be waiting when you open up the barn doors.

Today, Bianca surprised us with a beautiful little ram lamb:

I say "surprised," because she lambed fairly late last year. (We kept both of those 2010 lambs of hers over the winter, because neither was of butchering size last fall.) And she's certainly starting to get up there in age. But the new lamb is healthy, and Bianca is going strong. So, power to her.

As noted in the update to yesterday's post, it turns out we had a set of triplets and a singleton born on Tuesday, rather than two sets of twins.

Maybelle seems to be enjoying her first singleton after eight straight sets of twins. He already has a very beautiful fleece.

Maybelle is quite milky, but the continuous sets of twins have kept us from trying to milk her. Homeschooled Farm Girl is talking about giving it a try this year; it'll be interesting if we can get her into the stanchion, and get enough milk to make cheese.

Licorice's triplets (two males, one female) are doing great. I deliberately left the photo below "widely cropped," to give a better sense of how crazy the scene can get in our barn. Licorice has three lambs. There's a Buff Orpington hen off to the left. Conundrum and her lamb are in the background, along with a goose. Three more geese are up near Licorice.

This place is a madhouse. But lots and lots of fun. And will get even more fun later today, when the chicks arrive. But that's a separate post.

05 April 2011

Lambs in Full Force (Updated)

It was chilly this morning, but beautiful and sunny. Great morning to go out to the barn and discover that TWO ewes had delivered a total of FOUR lambs overnight, and all were healthy.

Licorice's lambs were driest, so she apparently had delivered her two males first:

Maybelle, who is usually the first ewe to deliver, slipped to third place this year with this beautiful boy and girl:

Will be interesting to see if we get any more born today. At least one more of the ewes is looking enormous and ready to go any time.

BTW, as an aside, Puddles the Goat Kid has now made a complete transition to the barn. She's been sleeping there every night, and hasn't been inside my office in a few days. She even seems to be playing well with the other goat kids. Simply unbelievable the progress she's made; this is by far one of the most rewarding parts of raising livestock.

UPDATE: Later in the day, the parentage of the lambs became more clear. It turns out that Licorice had in fact had triplets, and Maybelle had a singleton. With the chaos in the sheep area, one of Licorice's triplets was following Maybelle around. But in the afternoon, they'd sorted themselves out correctly.

This is the first time in her nine lambings that Maybelle has not twinned. It's also the first time she's delivered in April rather than March. As Homeschooled Farm Girl pointed out, "She is getting old, Daddy." For the record: this is Licorice's sixth lambing, and her third set of triplets.

01 April 2011

Taking the Fight to the Enemy

All I can say is: It's about time.

Reversing roles, farmers sue Monsanto over GMO seeds

Genetically modified seed giant Monsanto is notorious for suing farmers in defense of its patent claims. But now, a group of dozens of organic farmers and food activists have, with the help of the not-for-profit law center The Public Patent Foundation, sued Monsanto in a case that could forever alter the way genetically modified crops are grown in this country.

[. . .]

GMO crops have another interesting quality -- you can "use" a patented gene without even knowing it. When you download and share music and movies on peer-to-peer networks or plagiarize blog posts or books, let's face it -- you know what you're doing. But if you're a farmer, GMO seeds can literally blow in to your fields on the breeze or just the pollen from GMO crops can blow in (or buzz in via bees) and contaminate your organic or "conventional" fields. And if that happens, Monsanto or Syngenta or Bayer CropLife maintain the right to sue you as if you had illegally bought their seed and knowingly planted it.

In an appropriately Orwellian twist, the companies even call such accidental contamination by their products "patent infringement." And, in the face of a government more than willing to allow companies to "defend" their "intellectual property" in this way, organic farmers and others have now stepped up and said, in short, "Hell no!"

[. . .]

If the suit is successful, not only will it limit Monsanto's ability to sue farmers, the company will have far greater responsibility for how and where its biotech seeds are planted. The regulatory free ride will be over. While that won’t eliminate GMO crops, it will at least give organic farmers a hope of avoiding contamination.
You can read the full story here.

30 March 2011

Here Come the Lambs

The calendar has said "spring" for over a week, but it's only barely felt like it outside here in Michigan.

This new happy arrival got the lambing season started right:

He's big, beautiful, and doing extremely well. As is his mother (Conundrum). It's definitely starting to feel more like spring here on our farm.

29 March 2011

It's Hard Work Learning to Be A Goat

You'd be exhausted, too, when they let you back into the Yeoman Farmer's office building after spending a long day in the barn, figuring out where you fit in the caprine hierarchy.

Shhhhhh. Don't tell Puddles that when it warms up next week, she's going to have to start spending her nights in the barn, too.

27 March 2011

Our Gallivanting Goat

As promised in the previous post, I've been looking for a chance to get video of the goat kid's new dexterity.

Turns out, I didn't have to wait for morning. When I took her in for the night, she started gallivanting across the living room. The lighting was very poor, and she was hard to capture on camera, but I did manage to get some footage. This won't win any awards for video quality, but it gives a sense for the remarkable progress she's made:

While in the house, I went upstairs to see if the Yeoman Farm Children were in bed. Wouldn't you know it...the goat kid began climbing the stairs after me! I couldn't get it on video, but it was amazing to watch. She got about halfway up, and then climbed back down. And ran across the living room again at full tilt.

It's definitely time to move her to the barn, before she dismantles everything in the house.