Thursday, May 26, 2011

An Unexpected Visitor

It was a beautiful, cool morning and half awake I stumbled along to get my morning feeding and watering chores done when I spied something out of the corner of my eye. Something long and colorful, slithering across the ground. I froze and stared, making sure there wasn't a rattle...

The tips of my toes are at the bottom of the
picture to give you an idea of how long this
snake is.
So, much to my mother's un-surprise I'm sure, I just had to reach down and gently pick up that three foot long kingsnake and check it out. When I was a teen I had one like it that a friend no longer wanted, so I knew what it was.

The snake was very shiny as if it had recently shed its skin. The colors were bright and it didn't seem to mind at all that it had been temporarily abducted.

The goats watched on in curiosity as I transferred the snake from one hand to the next and finally went and sat down for a while to admire it.

We have a lot of critters on the land, but this was the first snake I'd seen. In the morning, a whole bunch of lizards come out while the sun is coming up and the ground is starting to warm. At night we have little bats and we sit in a row and wtach them catching bugs across the starlit sky.

I figured my kids would really want to see this snake and keep it, so I took pictures and then promptly let it go back to its business. A snake is a handy pest hunter to have around. Besides, the last thing I need is another scaly pet at home...

Monday, May 23, 2011

4-H Goats

A couple of weeks ago we had the pleasure of adding the 4-H neighbor girl's goats to the herd. She wanted to get out of goats and move up to a horse (for barrel racing), so she decided to sell all her goats. She had the two mommies and four babies. I agreed to take the mommies. For me this was really special since her little Nigerian Dwarf was the first goat I ever successfully milked.

On moving day, she walked them over by their collars and they obediently followed her lead (teaching me that goats really can be well behaved given consistent training). They know their names, Star and Pepper, and they are easy to milk. Much easier than Ms. Cow who likes to be a brat and kick and jump when she runs out of grain or when she's tired of being up on the stand...or when children try to milk her and don't do it right.

Star is a Nigerian Dwarf, all black with inquisitive blue eyes. She's a rascal and likes to do sneaky things like take the bowl out of the stanchion when it's empty of grain and then toss it on the ground. She also talks to my husband and to other goats using a series of low grunts and growly mah-mah-mahs.

Pepper is an American Alpine. The first time I saw her I was a little scared of her because she's tall. But when we got her to the ranch I realized she's the same size as Cow and Tsica. She's also a lady, well mannered and loving.

Both goats like to be rubbed and scratched. They vie for attention from me whenever I sit and take a break to be with them. The most unusual thing for me is that both have been shaved. I call them my bald ladies. They had been taken to the fair for a 4-H show and one of the things they do is shave the goats so the judges can better see their shapes.

Now that Milk Jail is outside the goat pen, I take them in order (Cow, Pepper, Star) and all three are so good. All I have to do is open the gate and say Up-Up-Up. They run to the stanchion and hop in place.

The biggest difference is the increase in milk production. This morning, for example, I came home with a whole gallon. Pepper is the most rewarding to milk. Her teats are like two water balloons, and when she's out of milk they shrivel up and sag. It takes several seconds to milk out a full teat, but I can milk her with both hands! She doesn't pitch a fit if I do it wrong, just stands their patiently while I figure it all out. I just love these two.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Moved and Feathery

The ducks and geese have moved into their own spot by the pumpkin patch. They have a large private resort area complete with a hotel (extra large doghouse not strong enough to withstand goat headbutts) and a swimming lagoon (baby pool) in which the water is changed twice daily and used to water the pumpkins. They are finishing up the game bird feed they came with and will start on regular feed soon. Their diet is supplemented with weeds I pull daily from the gigantic garden and veggie scraps from the restaurants.

Look at all their feathers. Only a few spots of baby fluff left.

Vi's Baby

We knew Violette was expecting when we bought her, and her prior owner had calculated a due date of May 29th, give or take. The other day we got an email from her warning us that the other two does she had had kidded, so we needed to keep a closer eye on Vi because she was likely to have her baby sooner than later.

We spent the night near the goats after that email and nothing. Vi continued to wander around acting the same as she had since we got her. There were a few small changes, like she whacked anyone who got in her way of the alfalfa. She talked to us a little more, but no definite baby signs.

This morning though, it was obvious. Her baby had "dropped" leaving two dips in her sides which are evident in this picture:
She talked to me a lot throughout my morning chores. She didn't seem to want to eat much at all, unless I gave her some grain, of course, and she would sneak into her manger and lie down, still talking to me.

I figured it was time.

Since Vi is really small in comparison to the other goats we have, I wanted her and her new little one in a safe space where they could still be with the herd but also be clear from any wandering horns or headbutts.

Milk Jail has now become the Baby Nursery. I cleared out the stanchion and cleaned the floor in there. Fresh bedding, water, and an alfalfa feeder were added into the space to make it mommy friendly.

Vi seemed to know what I was up to, because she hurried in there and talked to me some more. She quieted when I rubbed her belly for her and eventually settled down on her nest. I rubbed her face and belly some more. She kindly repaid me by licking my knee for a while.

Around 4PM today she had a little baby. She cleaned him all up herself and I cleaned up the nasty bits of leftovers from having a baby. She is a sweet mother, patient with him and talking to him to be sure he's all right.

He's really small. About the size of a mini-dachshund to be exact. He looks a bit like his mother, but doesn't have the full facial stripes. He has the same speckles on his ears. We counted ears and hooves and bits to be sure everything came out fine, and it did. He has his mother's eyes, and he's already entertaining us with his antics.
Baby Gabe is walking and jumping around. He's even tried to climb up on the milk crate in his designated area. He's playful and perky. Vi watches over him, licking him whenever he gets close and patiently waiting while he figures out how to work the built in Mommy food delivery device. She lifts her right leg while he searches around.

It's a boy!
Resting after a lot of skipping around.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Gigantic Garden vs. Test Garden



Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Garden is Growing

Here are a few updates from the Gigantic Garden.

Almost all of the tomato plants have green tomatoes in them. The three oldest plants that survived the cold in the test garden are the most productive. They stand about three feet tall now and are branching out, reaching across the next garden row as well as growing up into their tomato cages.

I discovered by accident that filling an empty clay pot with water in the morning and leaving it on the row by the plants helps deliver a steady trickle of water all day. The largest plant was by that pot so I brought another from home and have shifted the pots so they're situated by plants that look like they could use the extra boost.

You can see the lip of the pot at the edge of this picture.

Green Bean Seedlings

Cantalope Seedlings
 Something ate almost all of my green beans. I'm experimenting now by starting them in pots high up over the compost pile. They neighbor mentioned she saw a rabbit, but I think it might be birds. My theory is that if it were a rabbit more would be missing.

I also started some cantalope seeds in pots. Having read about what other intensive gardeners do, I want to fill up all the empty spots in my garden rows and practice square inch rather than square foot gardening. I think in this climate with the upcoming heat, the plants will do better if they shade each other. Crowding them in a bit should also control evaporation by shading and covering the earth.

The two apple trees have tiny green apples on them now. Remember the last post with the pink flowers? All gone now. The baby apples are well camoflaged, so I hope the birds don't eat them before they can mature.

Got Milk, Momma Sheep?

"Oh, you can milk just about anything with nipples." -Greg Fokker, Meet the Parents, 2000

Yeah well, once you milk a goat it makes you want to milk anything with an udder and teats. So the other day, I gathered up my trusty, child-sized lasso and my mini Farmer helper and we done wrastled us up that momma sheep and situated her up on the milk stand.

After a thorough inspection which included brushing all that nasty shedding wool off, lots of pets, a food bribe, and gentle talking, I checked out her big, round udder only to find that it was...empty. Drat! I'm sure her daughter was over there grinning at me. She was the last one to have access, that's for sure.

We left her on the milk stand for a while because it's not a bad idea to get her used to it in case we have to do hoof trimming or other care later on. She was watching me with distrustful, wild sheep eyes the whole time. But she did have a few cautious nibbles of alfalfa during her stay.

Momma Sheep's Udder
She tolerated our attention but was more than happy to get back to the herd where she is the big boss lady. She does some interesting things like kick her front leg out at us. It's clearly a warning. She pushes away the other babies that aren't hers, but they snuggle right back up to her despite her efforts. When we go into the sheep pen, she's the first to run and the little ones follow her lead.

When we first got the sheep, they huddled in the corner and stared at us as if we were going to grab them at any moment. They stayed far away from the food and water unless we were all the way on the other side of the goat pen. Only then would momma sheep cautiously kick, walk, kick, walk walk, kick, freeze, walk, and nibble.

Today she mosied on over there pretty fast after I dropped off the fresh hay. Not when I was in the sheep pen, of course, but I was still in the goat pen, so that was an improvement. I doubt she'll ever really like me much, but I'd rather she not be terrified when I drop in for my twice daily visits.

The Herd in their usual corner
We did get the last animal for the sheep pen, a ram, last Monday. He's a bit young to work any magic like Mojo, but we named him Lucky. He's 3 months old and has a huge, round pot-belly from pigging out where he last lived. They were feeding him hay and grain, probably fattening him up for...well, he is lucky to be the head sheep stud when he grows up.