27 July 2015

How the [Old] Goose is Cooked

What to do with an old goose that has escaped the butcher's knife for several Christmases running? Geese are most tender at the end of their first year, and so we try to get all of a year's hatchlings butchered in the late fall of that same year. That gives them plenty of time to get to a good size, but not enough time to get old and tough. It also means they can get virtually all of their nutrition from pasture, and won't have to be fed grain over the winter.

Yet, every year, it seems that winter hits in full fury before I manage to get the last gosling butchered. There are few things as miserable as standing out in the bitter cold, or a November rain, trying to pluck a goose before one's face and fingers go numb. So, every year, a handful of lucky geese have gotten to survive to see another spring.

And that was okay, up to a point. When we'd get a new batch of goslings, in April or May, we had a whole gaggle of adults all set (and eager) to adopt those goslings and raise them for us. It was only necessary to brood them under a heat lamp for a few days. We'd then turn them loose, and stand back as the adults swept in to take over. After several minutes of the most obnoxiously loud honking you've ever heard, the initiation would be complete. The new goslings were full members of the Fraternity of Goose.

Ever watched a pair of wild Canada geese taking care of their goslings? The adults stand guard for predators, chase off any interlopers, and make sure the young go where they're supposed to go. Now, imagine a whole pack of geese doing the same thing, out in our pasture all summer. It's great fun to watch.

Then, this past winter, things got completely out of control. We were up to 15 adults being over-wintered, and they were eating us out of house and home. Something had to be done. But what? We'd read in Carla Emery's classic Encyclopedia of Country Living that it was best to allow a mature goose to live out its life and die of natural causes. They weren't worth butchering, she said, because they were "as tough as shoe leather."

We believed her.

Emery's book is a fantastic resource, but with 15 adult geese that weren't finding any natural causes to die of, I knew I had to come up with some kind of creative solution. And after a bit of research, I found it: brine.

An experiment with one goose confirmed it, and we've been following this method ever since with great success. We didn't even buy a new batch of goslings this spring; this year, all we're going to do is clear out the old ones.

Here's what we do:

1) Butcher the goose as usual. My preferred method is to tie a piece of bailing twine around both legs, suspend the goose upside down from a nail on a beam in the downstairs part of the barn (dirt floor), slit its throat, and let it bleed to death. Once it's dead, I dunk it in a large pot of scalding water to loosen the feathers. I then hang it back up on the nail, and pluck the feathers (stopping from time to time to dunk the bird in hot water again when necessary). The carcass is then transferred to an outdoor table, where I clean and eviscerate it. Lungs get tossed to the barn cats. Heart and liver get set aside to be added to other poultry hearts and livers (for "heart and liver night"). The other internals are tossed, along with the head, tail, and webbed feet.

2) Instead of freezing the carcass whole, as we do with a young one that we intend to roast, I next carve the goose into pieces: wings, legs, thighs, breasts. The breast meat is the only piece I remove from the bone. I don't remove the skin, because it has a nice layer of fat trapped in and under it.

3) The remaining carcass, including the long neck and other stray pieces of meat (especially the back) gets put directly into a large soup pot. After adding a few similar carcasses from meat chickens that'd been butchered earlier in the summer and frozen, we add water and get a pot of soup going.

4) The goose pieces are rinsed and then put directly into a large Crock Pot. I use a quart jar to measure out just enough water to cover all the pieces. Usually it's 3 quarts. I then add one quarter cup of salt to the Crock Pot for each quart of water, and stir everything up until the salt is totally dissolved.

5) The heavy brine will preserve the meat all by itself, because no organisms can grow in that environment. However, just to be sure, I like to put a lid on the Crock Pot and store it in our extra refrigerator. There it sits for at least a couple of days, with the salt and water penetrating deep inside the meat.

6) Early on the morning of the day we intend to feast on the goose, I pour the brine water out of the Crock Pot. It's important not to dump this salt water in a place that will kill vegetation, or into a drain that goes into a septic tank (where it could kill the bacteria that process septic waste). I then add a half cup or so of apple cider vinegar to the Crock Pot, along with an onion and some spices (basil, thyme, rosemary, etc).

7) I put a lid on the Crock Pot, set it on "High", and let it go all day, occasionally stirring the pieces of goose. As it cooks, the fat melts off the meat and makes a wonderful sauce. [ALTERNATIVE: if you're up late the night before, you can start it going overnight on "Low," and turn it down to "Warm" whenever it's clearly done.]

8) At dinner time, I remove the meat, which is by now so tender it's falling off the bone. We arrange the meat on a platter, toss the bones and skin, pour the liquid into a gravy boat, and serve. Any leftover meat and gravy can be added directly into the soup pot (which by now has of course been finished cooking, and has been sitting in the refrigerator, for a day or two.)

We prepared an old gander this way, for yesterday's Sunday dinner, and it was absolutely delicious. This is probably the third or fourth of the old geese I've done so far this Spring / Summer, so there's still a whole bunch more to butcher. We'll most likely over-winter three females, and get a fresh batch of goslings in the spring for them to adopt. At least there's no rush; at this point, they're simply eating grass out in the pasture and not really costing us anything. I just want to make sure I get them done before it gets too cold this fall.



Looks like we'll have lots of good eating between now and then.

22 July 2015

Hanging with the Flock

As summer wears on, the sheep pasture tends to get increasingly well-grazed. That's especially true this year, for a couple of reasons. First, we had a bumper crop of lambs. With 37 animals in total, that's really pushing our pasture's limits. Secondly, we've had an extraordinary amount of rain. That would usually mean more growth for grass, but the pasture is in a low-lying portion of the property. That has led to flooding, and occasionally to the formation of a temporary pond / swamp where they would normally graze.

Meanwhile, the grass in our yard has been going gangbusters and we've had to mow it nearly constantly. On occasion, we've tried bagging the lawn clippings and feeding them to the sheep. They usually eat some of those clippings, then quickly tire of it and leave a large amount to rot.

The sheep can't simply be turned into the yard to graze. We have several fruiting bushes and brambles that would be destroyed in minutes if the sheep had at them. The key is to let them into the yard for short periods of time, and to supervise them while they graze. Any time they make a move on the raspberry bushes, or the grape vines, they get chased back to the lawn. Here they are, spread out behind the house, in the early morning shadows (click any photo to enlarge it):
Note the clothesline down in the corner of the yard. Soon after taking this picture, I lugged a basket of laundry down there and continued supervising the sheep as I hung it up to dry.

The backyard lawn is a nice mix of grass, clover, and plantain. The sheep love it so much, I've begun leaving a wide swath of it uncut when we mow the rest of the lawn. They also enjoy munching on windfall apples under that large tree.

Other parts of the backyard are pure weeds and are difficult to cut even with the lawnmower. Here, several sheep are going to work along a retaining wall near the barn, where we used to have a woodpile. It's hard to describe just how much fun it is to stand in the yard, watching this.


These two close-up shots give a better sense for how tall the weeds are in that area, and how thoroughly the sheep have stripped those weeds of their leaves.


By far, the sheep are most helpful in going after the long grass along fence lines. Rather than wasting time trying to trim that grass with a weed-wacker, I can let the sheep fill their bellies taking it down for me.
 The sheep don't always behave themselves, and groups of them sometimes make a break for the "off limits" vegetation. It doesn't usually take much to drive them away, and get them back where they're supposed to be.

I typically let them out twice a day: once in the early morning, before going to work (sometimes while still enjoying my coffee), and again in the evening, at the end of the work day. Standing out in the yard with them, watching them do their thing, is a wonderful mind-clearer. It's a thousand times better than sitting in freeway traffic, commuting to and from a job in the city.

16 July 2015

The Milkman Cometh

When Little Miss Sweetness made her dramatic arrival two years ago, she had a gastric issue which required immediate surgery. She would end up hospitalized for the first month of her life as she recovered. She also had a heart defect, which would require a separate surgery a few months later. (All these issues are now behind her, and she's a thriving two year old.)

For the first two and a half weeks of her life, LMS got all her nutrition intravenously. Only slowly did the hospital staff allow her to transition to breast milk; even then, it had to be delivered by NG tube, so she wouldn't have to work hard sucking - and so the amounts could be strictly measured.

However, from Day One, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer's milk supply was as abundant as it'd been with any of our other kids. So, as she sat by LMS's side in the NICU, day after day, and week after week, she pumped. And pumped. And pumped. For one stretch, she was regularly producing 50 to 60 ounces per day.

One of my jobs was to walk the filled-and-labeled 2.7oz milk bottles down the hall to the hospital milk room, where they would be frozen. My other job was to scoop up another handful of empty bottles, and bring them back to MYF.

Little Miss Sweetness barely dented that supply of frozen milk by the time she was discharged. When the hospital milk room packed all those little bottles into Styrofoam coolers for us to take home, we were astounded at the sheer volume. The five coolers took up virtually the entire rear-most cargo portion of our minivan! I think I muttered something about being glad we had so many chest freezers back at the farm. We were going to need them.

And the milk didn't stop coming. The doctors didn't want LMS to nurse directly, or even exert herself sucking from a bottle, until she'd had the heart surgery and made a full recovery from it. So, with the NG tube in until at least November, MYF had to keep pumping. I made bulk purchases of larger milk freezer bags on Amazon, which were soon filled and added to our stockpile. I started wondering if we might also need another chest freezer.

LMS eventually had her heart surgery, made a strong recovery, and got the green light to begin nursing directly. She picked it up right away, much to our relief. And just in time: the pump had gotten so much use, MYF had literally worn it out and the thing was now falling apart.

What to do with all that milk in the freezer(s)? We had one 9 cubic foot chest freezer packed to the gills with nothing but milk, with the overflow stuffed into other freezers wherever I could find space.

We didn't want to get rid of all of it; there was no guarantee that MYF's milk supply would remain high enough for long enough. The "strategic reserve" gave peace of mind that we'd never have to buy formula. Still, barring a true catastrophe, it was far more than we would ever need. We wanted to donate at least some of it to a family that could get some good use out of it.

But how could we find that family?

MYF began making calls. The nearest milk bank was a long ways away, and wouldn't take our milk anyway (understandably, because MYF hadn't undergone a health screening, etc). The local crisis pregnancy center, which supplies formula for mothers who need it, didn't know any mothers who wanted frozen breast milk. The local adoption agency didn't know any adoptive mothers who wanted it. None of our friends had recently adopted a baby. No one knew anyone who'd recently adopted a baby.

So, the milk sat. And sat. And sat. We were now sure we would never need any of it for Little Miss Sweetness (who was rapidly becoming Big Miss Sweetness), but it was still not clear what we should do with it.

Finally, this spring, through word of mouth, we learned of mother-to-mother milk sharing networks. One of the largest is called "Eats on Feets," and seems to operate primarily on Facebook. Mothers needing milk can post requests, as can families with milk to donate. People then connect through private messages, and arrange to get the milk from donor to recipient. In addition to the national Facebook page, there are numerous state-specific and region-specific chapter pages. This makes it easier to find local donors and recipients, so milk need not be shipped.

I browsed the Michigan listings, looking for families-in-need-of-milk that weren't too far from us. Some of the requests were very simple, just giving a name and location. Others gave a fair amount of detail about the travails the family had been going through, and the lengths to which they were willing to drive for milk. It's impossible to read these without being moved, and without wanting to help. I felt guilty that I hadn't done more, sooner, to find this organization.

I sent several private messages, through Facebook, to mothers who'd posted requests for milk. (At this point, I wasn't sure I was comfortable putting up a post announcing that we had milk. Perhaps it's because I'm male, and virtually 100% of all posts were by mothers. I don't know.) Some never responded at all, most likely because FB segregates messages from "non-friends" into what's essentially a spam folder. If you don't check it, you don't see those messages. Others did respond, but either (1) decided we were too far away, (2) had just gotten a freezer full of milk from someone else, or (3) didn't feel comfortable using milk as old as ours.

I waited for the just-got-a-freezer-full people to contact me back, but that didn't happen. So, the milk sat.

Finally, shortly before the Fourth of July, I decided it was time to make a post of my own on the Eats on Feets board. Within hours, I had three separate mothers contact me. I filled them in as to the age of the milk, and none was troubled by it. We arranged public meeting places at times that would work for us and for them, at gas stations just off the freeway.

What a joy it was to pack the milk back into those Styrofoam coolers the hospital had sent us home with! I packed and delivered roughly one-third of the milk one evening to one of the fathers, and Mrs. Yeoman Farmer made the other two trips. The last of these was to deliver to a mother who'd invested in an enormous amount of freezer space, so she took every remaining ounce I could find in every one of our freezers. This is what the back of our minivan looked like, just before MYF pulled out:

It's wonderful having our freezer space back. And it's even more wonderful knowing that we've been able to supply three families with something so valuable, it can't be purchased in any store.

14 July 2015

National 24-Hour Challenge 2015: Racing the Rain (that never came)

Last month, I again went out to Middleville, Michigan for the craziest of cycling events: the National 24-Hour Challenge (N24HC). This was my second time participating. Last year's ride report has many more details about the basics and logistics of the event itself; you may want to review that if you're not familiar. The event begins at 8am Saturday, and the challenge is to see how many miles you can ride before 8am Sunday. My story from this year's event continues below the jump.


08 July 2015

Surprises

As much as you try to plan what happens with the garden or livestock, farm life is full of surprises. Our laying hens are completely free range, and we keep a few roosters in with them. The roosters are around as much for entertainment as anything else, and in their spare time they keep busy making sure the hens stay fertile.

After a rooster mates with a hen, all the eggs she lays for some period of time are fertile. Of course, because we gather them every day, those fertilized eggs don't develop. It takes several days of near-constant warmth, from a hen or artificial source, for enough development to take place to even be visible when the egg is cracked open.

Then, sometimes, a hen gets a mind of her own about those eggs. She begins laying them in an obscure, out-of-the-way place that we humans never check. After accumulating several eggs, she goes broody and sits on that nest. She emerges from time to time, just long enough to get something to eat and drink, and then she's back on those eggs. With enough other hens in the flock still running around in a big crowd, the farmer will never even miss her. She might even be joined on the nest by another broody hen. Nobody misses her, either.

And then, one morning, the two of them emerge with the results of their broodiness.

One of the Yeoman Farm Children discovered the new arrivals in the upstairs portion of our barn, where we keep the hay (and were animals seldom go, but which the birds can get into if they really try). The hens had picked such a good spot for their nest, wedged between the hay bales and a barn wall, they'd gone completely undetected. They were clearly very good mothers; any time a person or barn cat came close, they'd fly into a tizzy, puff their feathers, and make all kinds of loud noises. We left them alone, and after a few days of exploring the barn they took their tiny brood outside. Again, any time one of us came close, they raised loud objections. Watching the four birds roam the property around the barn and behind my office was more entertaining than anything on television. Especially fun is the way the hens will cluck and point something out (like a bug or piece of grain) to a chick, who then scrambles over and pecks it up.

I snapped the photograph above on June 25th, when the chicks were about a week old. Shortly thereafter, something happened to the black chick. It could've wandered into the high grass, or fallen victim to any number of other perils; we don't know, because we simply never saw it again.

The yellow chick, on the other hand, is still going strong. He/she is beginning to feather out, and is keeping up with the two hens as they forage all over the place. Note how alert both of them become, as soon as a human comes near:


They continue to retreat to their nest behind the hay bales each night, and are scratching through fallen hay scraps early each morning by the time I come out to the barn. I've begun putting a small amount of chicken feed in a bowl for them. As soon as they see it coming, their clucks change to an excited rapid-tempo.

It's also interesting the way the two of them have both remained so dedicated to the chick. There doesn't seem to be a rivalry; it's a cooperative venture. In the past, when multiple hens have hatched broods around the same time, we've seen an alpha hen take command of all the chicks --- and then the other hen(s) have lost interest and gone back to the general laying population.

Who knows what surprises might emerge on the farm next week. In the meantime, we'll continue enjoying this one!

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.