Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Off Season Egg

To my understanding, Chinese Brown Geese lay from February to June. It's September. So...someone in the goose pen did not check her calender.

Friday, September 7, 2012


This is Frufru, a polish crested hen who survived the coyote massacre but came out of the battle with only one wing intact. This morning when I moved her pen in the garden so she and her other one-winged hen friend could have some fresh grass to peck at, she jumped out and went on walkabout in the garden. I went to collect her and was surprised that she can still fly...halfway. She's fast too, and zipped up and down the garden rows to avoid me. Her wound is pretty much healed up and has healthy skin all around it.

Note: The bald patch on her back was caused by her naughty rooster lover and is also growing back in.

Dreaming of Greener Pastures

Pasture Seeds
Okay so if you've been following my crazy ideas, you may remember that I attempted to grow alfalfa. It sort of worked, mostly. At least, the cows said it tasted great and preferred it 9 times out of 10 over flakes of dry alfalfa hay...

Anyways, that pasture area needs some love. It's growing alfalfa, wild amaranth...and a here and there crop of tumbleweeds. I figured since things grew there with not too much work, I should not give up on the idea of pastures. It's a great idea if it actually works and I can manage it properly by controlling the grazing of my gigantic ruminants. That kind of control will mean a series of fences and gates so animals can be rotated...but that's another project for another day.

In the meantime, I need to actually grow pastures so that I will have areas that require fencing and gates.

The 'Empty Gap' between the bucks and the sheep.
Some time ago, Jorge, my huge Alpine buck, and Lucky, my Blackbelly ram, decided they wanted to kill each other and the fence between them...as well as the creepy old coop since it was there and it's fun to beat the heck out of things with horns, if you happen to have horns on your head. So, that led to a 1/4 reduction in the sheep's large fenced area. It led to corral panels tied with horse fencing on Jorge's area. And this change left a gap between the two species so they couldn't hit each other through the fence anymore. I know, I know, I'm always ruining everyone's good times.

The empty gap was heavily fertilized with sheep poo and it's been sitting their composting for some time. For a while, it was a dumping ground for unused construction junk, but no more. Today it becomes a mini pasture. I have a couple bags of mixed pasture seeds suitable for my area that I got from Peaceful Valley aka GrowOrganic.com that I wanted to try out.

Highly technical seed spreader.
So I whipped out my fancy dancy seed sowing device that I got from the local Wal-Mart, filled it up with several cupfuls of seed, grabbed my rake and headed to the gap. There, I was watched over by my trusty sidekick, Max. He was fascinated as I raked a long area, seeded it, then raked it again to cover the seeds. He laid in the newly planted area to test the ground for...whatever it is dogs test it for.

It didn't take very long to finish this patch since the ground is very moist from a nice rain yesterday. Maybe it will keep raining and this stuff will work. There are already wild amaranth and purslane seedlings popping up in there. It could work...

Thursday, September 6, 2012

On Giving Up

August 26, I lost my beautiful furry friend, Gucci. The day before, the kids and I showed up to do the chores and discovered that my oldest son had forgotten to lock the chicken feed the last time we were out. We estimate that Gucci ate well over 100 pounds of grain and pelleted poultry feed. She seemed well enough, perky and content. But she did not get up. In fact, she couldn’t get up. I immediately gave her baking soda to help counter balance the effects of the grain and to help ease the bloating grain inevitably causes in a cow’s rumen.

We called two vet clinics here and left several messages for vets that the larger clinic referred us to as they had no one available to come out to treat a large animal. Their on-call emergency vet was a horse vet and would not work on a cow. It even says that on his receipt: Practice Limited to Horses.

My neighbor came over with his big ATV and we tried to pull Gucci up to stand with people on both sides and behind her trying to help. But she just would not budge. The rope actually broke. We gave her a dose of activated charcoal gel from the feed store across the street, which was indicated as a curative for grain overload. Later that evening I gave her vegetable oil as well.

But, as I stayed up all night by her side, and the more articles I read online about the outcome of severe grain overload, the more I realized that my cow was not going to have a happy ending. I brought her water every so often and sat in a chair, patting her bloated rumen with my bare feet to help her pass the painful gas in her body. By six in the morning, she was exhausted and in pain. You see, grain overload causes lactic acidosis and her blood was being poisoned by the grains fermenting in her stomach. She didn’t deserve to suffer. I called the horse vet and this time he actually answered his cell, and I asked him as best I could while crying, to come put her down.

I am told that everything in life happens for a reason, meaning that the reason is always something deeper than the obvious. The obvious is my cow ate a vast quantity of grain and it was slowly killing her. The other deeper meanings? I can’t even pretend to know. I have never felt so helpless in my life, unable to do anything to make her better. Certainly this could have been prevented by simply locking the bin, or by me double checking that the bin was locked instead of trusting a child to do it. There has not been a day that goes by since that morning that I haven’t broken down and cried and blamed myself.

It was sometime that night while sitting beside her and patting on her that I really wanted to give up. I wanted my old life back in which I worked an 8-5 job, had normal health insurance, so much less stress, and so many less responsibilities. Sure, I thought I was happy then. And maybe I was. But when you don’t know the great joy living the way in which you’ve always dreamed gives you, I suppose that ignorance was bliss. Back then I would never have dreamed of helping a baby goat come into the world by pulling its slimy legs when it was stuck. I never would have been able to give vaccines to an animal with an actual syringe. I would not have known the serene peace of milking a goat or a cow. Or the taste of sugar snap peas fresh from the plant…or those garden ripe tomatoes and eggs with orange yolks like they’re supposed to be instead of that pale yellow they have when store bought.

When I was five and I wrote down that I wanted to be a farmer and an artist, I admittedly didn’t know what that entailed. Being a farmer is hard, backbreaking work. It’s not for the faint of heart. It makes a person stronger, more resilient, and it takes the kind of person who presses on and refuses to give up. That’s not the kind of person I was before I bought four goats, but it seems to be the person I’m becoming.

The following day, my neighbor’s mother passed away. He had been the one to bury my cow for me near where she had died. We talked a lot before he left to go take care of the arrangements for his mother, and the one thing he said to me that sticks in my head is: “Well, you can’t just give up.” I’m not even sure why he said that. It was out of context after all.

I recently read a book about how to simplify your life and one piece of advice was that it is okay to give up on things that aren’t easy. That we’ve all been brainwashed to keep doing something until it works, but that’s not really the best thing to do. I don’t know. I’m torn. I love the farm and the animals. I love the garden and the peace of being outside in the sunshine and fresh air. But certainly this year, a lot of it is just not working the way I would have hoped.

After Gucci passed, I spent some time rubbing on her calf, Karma, and on Saturday, September 1, discovered a hard bony lump on her lower left jaw. After what happened to Gucci, I panicked and began searching online for what it could be. I believe it’s bony lump jaw, a common bacterial infection which occurs in young calves. It’s caused when they eat something sharp and it punctures their jaw. Bacteria gets in there and infects the bone. It can be treated, if caught early, with sodium iodide. Again, I called the vet, this time, the vet who had been helpful to me when Gucci had an abscess.

She returned my call and said she needs to see if she can order the sodium iodide and will schedule a day to come out and treat Karma. Yesterday I finished building a head gate for the calf so she can be safely restrained while the vet tends to her. I started feeding her in there to get her used to the idea. It’s going as well as can be expected so far. She’s not too keen on the idea and she’s very strong, so sometimes I have to get behind her butt and push until she goes into the stall. Karma wears a miniature donky size harness. She's not halter trained yet, even though I've had to lead her with one in the past when I had to seperate her from her mother for milk sessions.

Hopefully the medicine is available as the vet indicated it may not be, and if it is, hopefully the treatment will go well for her. It’s a slow spreading disease, taking a year or more to affect a cow enough to cause problems if untreated.

I can only keep my fingers crossed and try not to give up...and hope the sodium iodide does the trick.  There's really not much else I can do. Some things are beyond my control.