Saturday, December 31, 2016

Car lights in the rain

From the top of my hill in the goat pen I can hear the cars and see the headlights through the trees on highway 92. It's only a two lane road but it's a major thoroughfare between Douglasville and Fairburn and on to Fayetteville, and it's always busy. On a night like tonight, in misty rain and cold, I remember traveling in the back seat of my father's Ford station wagon on roads like this to his parents' farm in east Tennessee. My eyes always glued to window watching the lights of houses shining through the trees, I speculated about what went on behind those windows. Was there a family? Were there children? What were they like?

In my childhood Christmas time was like this, cold and rainy, and travel happened at night. If I was lucky there would be reindeer lights on a rooftop or Santa outlined in lights on a lawn, sometimes a bright tree through a window. It was a ride of great anticipation. My brother and sister might be sleeping on the seat beside me, but I couldn't sleep.

No matter what time we got there, my grandparents would be awake and ready with hugs to greet us. There would be strings of lights around the living room windows and steaming hot chocolate on the stove. The next day we would walk out to the fields and find the perfect tree to cut and bring back to the house for decorating, maybe my grandfather would shoot mistletoe out of a tree with his shotgun. Presents would magically appear under the tree over the next few days. I spent days running through fields of cows and crossing barbed wire fences onto neighboring farms, knowing that if they saw me they'd know who I was and to whom I belonged, or climbing the split log walls of the old barn and playing in tall stacks of hay bales. In the evening I loved sitting on the basement steps to watch my grandfather shovel coal into the big pot bellied heater burning warmth through the house while my grandmother worked her magic at the stove with meat and vegetables that often originated on that farm.

Funny how car lights on a rainy road can sometimes bring back the best memories of your life.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

No short pants

I never wear shorts on the farm, ever. Now I have another reason not to.

I've been a farmer for 5 years and had several reasons to not wear shorts. I used to live in shorts, flip flops and tank tops in the summer. I still wear tank tops, but between the snakes, poison ivy and a rooster that attacked my legs (now terminated), I don't wear shorts or flip-flops. Well,  until recently. I haven't seen any snakes yet this spring; the goats have almost gotten rid of the poison ivy and, as I said, the attack rooster is no longer with us. So on an occasional weekend afternoon, when I'm relaxing on the porch on a hot, lazy afternoon I may wear shorts and flip flops.

This evening I had planned to change into long pants before starting the evening animal chores, but it just didn't seem necessary. I did leave the flip flops in the house and wore garden shoes because, you know, there's just too much shit out there. Chickens, ducks and guineas got their evening grain and headed to their coops. The goats get a snack of juice bar scraps in the morning and evening when I milk Daisy - for which I am very grateful to a juice bar that will go unnamed lest they get in trouble and we stop getting goat snacks from them.

This evening I carried the bowls up the hill to the goat pen and started dividing them up. Two bowls for Quinta and Paco and a bucket for Daisy (she is the one producing milk, after all) into the main shed where Quinta and Paco eat in one room while I milk Daisy in the other. Sister has a pen she eats in. Spike and Dena eat outside unless it raining. If I don't separate them somehow, only a couple of them would get to eat. Goats don't like to share. When one is finished, he or she goes after the next bowl. You have to eat fast and be aggressive in goat world. I put Quinta and Paco's bowls and the bucket on a little shelf and then I feel tiny, scratchy, mousy toes on my ankles. Yikes! That'll freak you out a little in a mostly dark room.

There are mice that hang out in the goat shed because some of the goats are messy eaters and the mice get to clean up what the goats leave behind. I'm sure I just scared the hell out of the little guy; he jumped and accidentally bounced off of me on his way to safety. Honestly that was the first thing I thought, too, even though I couldn't see what got me. Then the second thing I thought was "snake?" and I jumped, a hair too late if it had been a snake. But no, it was tiny toenails. A snake would have left a mark. The only snakes we see are the non-venomous, farm-friendly varieties. I won't kill one, but I am cautious because I'm sure it would hurt to get bitten on bare skin. But even just to avoid tiny toenails in the dark, maybe long pants are a good idea.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

So here's how my morning went

After early morning chores and breakfast, the dogs woke up and asked for their breakfast. Then we went back outside. That's when I saw a chicken inside the lower goat pen (an area we aren't using for the goats right now) lying on her back and 2 other hens frantically running up and down the fence trying to magically will an opening that wasn't there. I thought the down chicken was dead and headed for the gate to go in and collect her. Damn, what got her? Then I saw her chest rising and falling, still breathing. Now I'm wondering just how much alive she is. Is she so close to death I'll have to finish her off?

On my way into the pen I found this:

and this:

Can you see that those are 2 piles of feathers? My assumption was that whatever put one bird on its back had gotten away with another one. I'd seen one of the roosters and a few hens in this area earlier this morning when I was with the goats. I figured a roo had been taken out protecting his ladies. It happens.

When I got to the bird laid out on her back and touched her feet to pick her up, I realized she was very much alive. I picked her up, holding her gently, not knowing how badly she might be hurt. I tried enticing the other two to follow me with the dog treats in my pocket. Dogs. The dogs had hung around, probably more fascinated with the chicken frenzy than loyal to me. Dogs go inside; injured chicken goes in a box for the moment, with water and food. I didn't find the neck injury I'd assumed she had, but she was missing some feathers, including a bare spot on her neck.

Back outside I had more success getting the other two out of the pen. I walked around counting. Eventually I located all 13 red hens, both roosters, the Speckled Sussex and 3 Favarolles. One Favarolle and 2 Barred Rocks missing. The Barred Rocks are older girls. They know how to hide. I wasn't worried about them, but assumed the missing bird was one of the smaller, meeker, younger Favarolles. I prepped the "chicken infirmary", a small wire pen we keep on the closed-in side porch for sick or injured birds that need to be isolated. Plastic liner in place, a layer of wheat straw with bowls of food and water, and she has a place to stay for a day or two. I examined her again and still found no real injuries other than missing feathers. Joan reminded me that passing out is a fear response in chickens, though not really a survival skill.

I went back outside and walked around the pen and along the road on the other side of the pen, not finding the trail of feathers I expected. So many feathers in a large area with no carcass could only be a larger animal, i.e. not a hawk, like a dog. This is worrisome because a dog that is able to feed itself well on one bird will be back for more. But then, heading back to the house, I discovered all 4 Favarolles casually scratching around together like nothing had happened. Both Barred Rocks showed up as well. There were no missing chickens. So my poor little red hen must have lost more feathers than I realized. I still don't know what happened to her.

To celebrate all birds still alive, I dumped a bunch of veggie and fruit scraps out for them.
Happy birds, happy farmer.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Little girl growing up

My calendar shows that week before last Daisy was in heat. Dena went into heat last week, so, guess what, it's Quinta's turn, and when that little girl is uncomfortable she strives to make sure the whole world knows it. This morning I was afraid the neighbors might call the ASPCA on us. I could hear her bleating as I was letting the birds out. By the time I headed up the hill to the goat pen she was at full volume. This girl started screaming the minute she figured out she had lungs. She's a pro, and she's only gotten louder.

With three does in heat in consecutive weeks, Spike is one busy little wether (neutered male goat). You might say his milkshake brings all the girls to the yard (or maybe you have more class than that). Each one in turn hits him up for attention. He does what he can, but his options are limited. He is a handsome guy, though, and a sweetie. Quinta is still much smaller than he is, but so far he's been really gentle in his attempts to mount her.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

sick day on the farm

On Monday I worked out in the sun and humidity in the garden without drinking enough water and got myself a UTI (urinary tract infection, mine caused by dehydration).  Yesterday I had a melt-down. My washing machine is waiting repair and currently has a full load of clothes and water, and I couldn't get hold of the repair guy. It isn't draining and I'm hoping that by leaving the water in it, I can help him figure it out. Last time this happened, about a month ago, I bailed it, rung out the clothes and hung them out to dry. When the repair guy came, the machine worked just fine so he couldn't figure out what is wrong. Of course I have a ton of laundry to do, and whenever I look at it, I just sigh and shake my head. Also, I have poison ivy on my arm that I keep putting cortisone on so I don't scratch it. Between the UTI and the poison ivy, pain makes it difficult to concentrate on anything else. What else? Oh yeah, I went to our little town yesterday to get farm supplies, go to the grocery store (mostly for pain relief from the UTI) and to the library to pick up books on hold. The library was closed for unknown reasons. Not a big deal, unless the rest of your day has totally sucked.

I didn't sleep well last night, so today I'm listening to my body, which seems to need to rest. But that doesn't mean I didn't have to get up at 6 am to let the birds out and milk the goats. Joan has to leave for work about the same time my day starts with the animals so she cant' do it for me. It also doesn't mean the dogs don't need to be fed and let out a few times. It doesn't mean the basic animal chores don't need to be done.  Thankfully Joan refreshed the birds' water and duck pools yesterday evening, so they can wait a little while. I did get some extra sleep this morning after milking. This afternoon I've been out to check for eggs and to walk around to see how the animals are doing. Walking past the gardens, I notice everything that needs to be done. The tomato plants are thriving and need some tying up. The cucumber plants are reaching out to their lattice and could use some guidance. The gardens in general need more mulching and weeding. But if I start any of this, I'll be out there for a couple of hours and be in trouble again.

I did decide to ring out the clothes in the washer and hang them up. They were already starting to sour, and they'll probably have to be rewashed, but at least they won't get worse. The kitchen had to be cleaned up, and I'm also using this time to catch up on paperwork for insurance reimbursement and organizing my crazy desk a bit. Joan will be able to help with the rest when she gets home from work this evening.

Tomorrow I go back to work at my part-time job for 3 days, and for those 3 days, I get nothing done on the farm except the basic chores that keep the animals healthy. So I'm feeling frustrated over this missed day of farm work. I try to take Sunday off because it's the only day Joan and I have together. We try to make it as a day to relax together, though sometimes it's a day to enjoy working together on the farm out of necessity. But I keep reminding myself that if I don't take care of my health, none of the rest gets taken care of in the long run.

So here are some reasons for me to take it easy today and get back to work as soon as I can.

Yeah, I have a particular fondness for the babies. I love watching them grow up.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Babies bustin' out all over

There is a lot going on here in the realm of birth and growth. In the growth category, goat kids are growing!
As you can see, they have new collars now. They're getting heavier, and it's lots easier to redirect a stubborn goat when she or he has a handle attached. Paco is adorable, still. Quinta's coloring makes her look stunning to me, and quite fetching in her purple collar.

Joan and I decided that the chicks have grown beyond bite-sized, so they have moved back out to the coop.
It's a small space and mama hen isn't happy with it, but we're planning to experiment with letting them out for a little while this evening, supervised, of course.

This is a wren's nest on the front porch in the crook of a folded sling back chair.
Joan was able to look in yesterday when mama was out and saw three eggs. We had 2 wren nests at different times on the back deck last year in hanging planters. This year she chose the front porch. Perhaps the back deck was too busy. Unfortunately we had to forego sitting on the porch yesterday evening to watch the rain. She flew off when we came out, and we didn't want her to have to be off the nest too long.

This is another story.
This poor over-grown and under-maintained rose bush is home to a family of brown thrashers and a couple of black runner ducks. A few weeks ago one of our 3 (at the time) female black Indian runner ducks started disappearing at night. For a few days she would show up once a day to get food, water and a swim and to chatter with her sisters, then disappear again. The first night she came back to the coop late, and we happened to hear her so we let her in after everyone else had been closed in. After a few days she completely disappeared. I thought she had gone broody and collected a clutch of eggs, especially since she started disappearing shortly after mama hen went broody. But since she stopped coming back for food and water, I've decided she must have been nabbed by a predator of some kind. I know she can forage for food, but there aren't good sources of water nearby except our watering stations and pools.

Soon after she stopped coming back in, one of the other two started disappearing during the day. She would come back in the middle of the day for food, water and a swim and hang out with her sister briefly. Every day we worried that she might not come back at all, and we felt bad mostly for the one remaining runner, seemingly left on her own. The runners are small, and the hens sometimes chase them away from food. The Pekin drake is at least twice their size and chases them down to mount them. They try to run, but he usually catches them. So, not the best quality of life for a lone little runner duck. Now the two runners, for the last few days, are both living in this rose bush. I tracked them there and can sometimes see one of them deep in the brush. They take turns coming out to eat, drink and bathe. I've left that blue pail of water nearby in case they don't make it to the back for water. Yesterday we left some food out there for them. Sometimes one of them will come in to sleep in the coop at night.

If they have viable fertilized eggs out there, they are a hybrid of Pekin and Indian runner, or perhaps chucks (a very unusual chicken/duck hybrid). If the eggs are going to hatch, it should happen in the next few days. If there are no ducklings, hopefully the poor little last two runner ducks will give up on this broodiness and start sleeping in the coop again. We're discussing when we should go into the rose bush with clippers for a much-needed trimming, assuming no ducklings come parading out of it in the next few days.

Then we will talk about whether we need to get more Indian runners to keep them company. Oh and about harvesting a rapist drake and rooster.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Weaning, not as much fun as it sounds

My day did not start well. The cheese I started yesterday didn’t set last night, not sure why, and Dena and the babies were all mad at me this morning. We separated them last night, and I kept them apart until after milking Dena this morning. Also Daisy was a little miffed because I fed them in the wrong order. The cheese is a loss, a wasted gallon of milk. Fortunately I know where to get more milk. The goats will just have to get used to this new order.

The babies are eight weeks old this week. Eight weeks (or earlier even) is the recommended age for weaning, and I can see signs of Dena already thinking their nursing days are coming to an end. The problem with that is that Dena’s milk, by nature, dries up when the babies don’t need it any more. So if I want to be able to milk her, I need to start now. I’ve been having practice milking sessions with her for a couple of weeks now. In the morning after milking Daisy, Dena gets on the milk stand. Well, saying she gets on the milk stand would imply that she hops up there willingly. At first she does, but when she realizes I’m about to the close the headlock, she makes a break for it and I have to haul her back.

We started practicing for this at least a year ago when I started feeding her on the milk stand to get her used to it. But now there is more involved, and she hates it. When I go for her udder she starts stomping and kicking and trying to climb over the front of the milk stand. This is not unusual; and I’m not torturing her, I promise. It’s common for first fresheners (that’s goat talk for first time moms) to have trouble getting used to being milked. When we first brought Dena home, she was a skittish little thing, as my grandfather would say. She didn’t like being touched at all. She especially didn’t like, still doesn’t like, being led by the collar. I worked with her for months to get her comfortable with being petted and loved on. She’ll get used to being milked, too.

Weaning the babies is going to be almost as hard (on me) as training Dena to be milked. They have to be separated from mama at night so they aren’t nursing, and I get the full night’s production of milk in the morning. The first night we’d planned to separate them, Joan went with me to help get everybody in the right stalls. Daisy and Spike have been sleeping in one of the stalls of the original shed, with Dena and the babies in the other stall. (One night Dena decided she’d had enough of the smaller kidding shed, I guess. When Joan went to lock them all up Dena took the babies into the main shed, so Joan let them stay. We’re still keeping Daisy and Spike separate from them so the babies don’t get hurt in any rough housing.) Because the kidding shed is smaller, we figured the babies would sleep there. When they followed Dena into her stall, we scooped them up and deposited them in the kidding shed and headed back to the house for supper. Well, we started back to the house when one of the babies let out a scream that sounded like someone was burning her or him with a hot poker. They both cried so loud I was afraid the local police or animal rescue would be called. I knew they were going to cry. I was prepared for that. But this was off the charts. I couldn’t leave them there. They were not only apart from mama for the first time, they couldn’t see her at all. Back they went into Dena’s stall. We had to rethink the situation.

Last night we decided to put Daisy and Spike in the smaller kidding shed. They’ll just have to deal with it. It’s temporary. The main shed is separated into two stalls by a slatted wall and door with space between the boards, so the babies can be in one stall and Dena in the other, and they can still see each other. Yes, when we walked away they cried. The babies cried, and Dena hollered. I translated for Joan as we walked down the hill. “Hey bitch, what do you think you’re doing? Those are my babies! They need to be with me!” But this time we kept walking away. And yes, I went to the door a few times to listen for them. The babies cried for a little while and then stopped. They cried a little again when Joan took the dogs out, and they heard her voice. But they eventually settled down and slept.

This morning They yelled at me a little when I didn’t let them get to mama right away, but they weren’t too bad. Dena vocalized her discontent as well, until I put food in front of her. Daisy fussed a little when she realized I’d changed up the milking order. I knew the babies would go right for Dena’s udder first thing, so I left them some milk. Dena danced and kicked a bit, but she’s getting better. Maybe she’s getting used to the idea that the babies aren’t the only ones that will be pulling her teats. Maybe.
That's Daisy's morning production on the left
and Dena's on the right. Not bad for a beginner.