Sunday, August 24, 2014

The goats and tough decisions

Yep, this is my third post in one night. I was working myself up for this one. I know I've been absent for quite some time and part of that is the nature of summer and homesteading. But I've also been making some tough decisions and haven't been ready to talk or write about them. I went into this year with plans to downsize our dairy goat herd. A couple years ago our numbers were way up and we've been steadily decreasing in size. This winter we got down to six does. We bred all six in hopes that we could keep a few favorites, sell the rest and be back down to three to four milkers this fall and not do any re-breeding this fall, just milk through next year and take a spring of kids etc. Well, selling goats has proved to be way more challenging than I thought. I started off with high prices with the intent of lowering as needed. Well, I've lowered and lowered and have come to realize that there is very little demand for goats here in the Interior.

 I was not intending on milking five does all summer every morning. Nor was I thinking I'd have to reduce my prices to nothing and end up begging people to take my goats off my hands. Fortunately I got in touch with an acquaintance who is now becoming a friend. She had expressed interest in downsizing from a cow to goats, but wasn't quite ready yet. However, we have been working together these past few weeks and I think we've worked out a pretty perfect arrangement (for me). She is going to buy my three favorite dearest milkers (Xanadu, Zuri and Denali). Then I am going to invest into her shareholder program and I will be able to pick up their milk weekly. In addition, she is nearby so we will be able to visit and we've been asked to goat sit already and do milking chores for a couple weeks this winter. I can't speak highly enough of this person. She is a planner and has been going above and beyond to prepare to have goats.

Meanwhile, I have been switching the milkers over from whole grains to goat chow, to keep things simple for her. She has dropped off her milking machine which I am turning on while I milk the goats to get them used to the noise. If all goes well, the girls will be heading to their new home this week. I am turning two gallons of milk into chevre daily, mixing yesterday's cheese, rolling and freezing it, washing cheese cloths, dumping yesterday's cheese to hang and culturing a new batch. So, my mornings are full of goats and milking and cheese, but not for long.

As far as the other goats go. That leaves Camelot and Dahlia for milkers.  A nice couple came up to look at Cammie this weekend and are thinking about buying her. I also have four doelings to sell and am going to focus my efforts on selling them - at least two of them. Of course everyone who comes out falls in love with my two favorites, who I have vowed will be the last goats to leave the property. Some days we talk about keep Ember and Eden and breeding them this fall. The benefits are that I still have goats, but get to take a winter off milking and we spend a lot less money on hay and grain. I keep my foot in the goat door, and can make a decision in the spring as to whether we want to get out completely or start following my own advice; keep our numbers small and stick to milking two doe.

The main reasons for taking a break from goats are cost as well as time and energy. I would love to have extra spending money for other things, and right now and for the last several years we just haven't had much extra money for fun things or I should add, for big things like finishing our house. I spend a lot of time getting milk and right now we are hardly eating any dairy. After our cleanse, both Dustin and I are getting congested and dealing with a lot of mucus in our throat and ears when we eat dairy.

 I have spent more and more time fantasizing about what else I could be doing with my time; I could have a morning yoga practice or do my homeschool planning before the kids wake up, but instead my first hour of the day is spent with the goats. Don't get me wrong, to have spent seven years of my mornings this way I had to have loved this lifestyle and I do. I love my goats and I love the routine of milking and having my own milk and being in control of what goes into my goats to make their milk. At the same time, I've realized I don't have to stop indefinitely. I could just take a break.

So, I'm keeping a milk stand and will be packing away all my goat stuff and milking supplies in tubs before winter. We are going to save a lot of money. And I am going to make time for myself. Over the past several years, we didn't set aside a budget for things like doctor appointments or dentist appointments. I haven't been able to afford taking yoga classes. You can bet I've already got a list of things I want to spend money on like a new juicer and a new blender. And I'm already planning a road trip for next summer because all we'll have to work out is for Dustin to take off work, but we won't need a combination of two or more house sitter, farm sitter and goat milkers to take over my jobs for the week.

For a good part of this summer I haven't thought about much else other than goats, and what to do with them and whether I could actually give them up or not. They've become a part of my identity. We got our first goats when Noah was one year old. I've been milking in the morning's since I was pregnant with Avery. My kids don't know a life without goats. I don't think they can imagine it. We are all going to miss them so much, but not having them will open new doors. We will be able to do so many other fun things now. So, it may seem like sad news, but I'm getting past the sad part and moving on to feeling very free and liberated. Of course, I'll keep you posted :)

Family Blerry Picking Day

 We don't get away from the homestead much in the summer. Dustin usually works six days a week and then his one day off is spent butchering chickens, repairing goat fences, and most recently taking down and processing dead trees in around the house. We decided to at least get away for a day trip and combine business with pleasure. So we drove out to OUR :) favorite out of town blueberry spot (which was a longer drive than necessary but was bangin). We picked berries for two and half hours and then as we drove back we stopped at one of our favorite road side river campgrounds.


It was one of the most perfect berry picking days. Seventies and sunny ( I don't know why that crazy boy is wearing a hoody). I only saw one mosquito the entire afternoon. There were way more berry pickers out there than usual which I find quite obnoxious when you drive that far. There are berries everywhere and frequent pull offs and newcomers end up parking and picking within eyesight of us - ergh! Anyhoo, it was still lovely.






The kids both helped pick more so than in past years. We ended up with close to five gallons of blueberries. I picked on two other separate occasions and then found quite a bit of berries still in the freezer from last year. So I believe we are up to twelve gallon freezer bags of berries which will be enough for us. Now we are picking raspberries. I've been to the Upick twice and look forward to peaceful picking at a friend's this week.





Hot Dogs and marshmallows.

One of those summer family days we won't ever forget.

Garden update



Considering that this has been a record setting summer for cool and rainy weather here in Fairbanks, I'm pretty content with this year's harvest. Yes, everything is late, and the heat lovers did poorly, super poorly; as in no or very few squash, tomatoes, cukes or beans for this gardener. However, the carrots are bigger than usual and we are digging a decent number of potatoes. It has been a good summer for most root crops and greens. The celery loved the wet weather. I'm glad I planted more zucchini than I thought we could eat, as every other zucchini has been succumbing to mold. I've resorted to buying tomatoes and cucumbers at the Farmer's market and am already trying to figure out where I might erect a greenhouse next summer for the squash and cukes.


 The Brassicas did well. I have some of the largest cabbages I've ever had and some of the smallest. One bed must have gotten way more manure dumped on it.

 I think next year I'll try to make do with two rows of peas instead of three, but it is hard as we've got soup peas and snap peas in one row, and then one of the two rows of shelling peas has several feet of sweet peas...

This picture was from late July; carrot thinnings, bolting beets and broccoli.

 I find eggs so beautiful, especially in baskets.

July Kimchi in the making


Pile of cilantro.

I heard that there was a frost advisory for low lying areas a couple of nights ago. Looking around at my garden and thinking that it has all got to be harvested over the next five weeks is overwhelming to say the least. Right now I'm picking peas and zucchini every few days. Greens as needed. There are so many crops that will continue to get bigger until the end and will store better in the ground anyways. Once we get close to a frost in the hills I'll start harvesting and pulling the heat lovers that aren't doing much anyways. Then I'll try to ration out the carrot pulling over the course of a couple weeks. So much work to do, but such a satisfying time of year!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rainy July and the homestead

We are having the rainiest summer I can remember. Yes it is beautifully lush and green outside. And no, I'm not really complaining. On the plus side the inside of my house is in better shape than most summers. The garden fares o.k., but certainly behind with the cooler weather. The kids started picking carrots this week - small but worthwhile. I pulled the first batch of beets for a salad and am already wishing I'd planted more. I cut the first few ribs of celery stalks this week and have pulled a few scallions and picked two zucchini - unfortunately I tossed about eight to the chickens this morning that were rotting from all the rain. We've eaten one head of Broccoli with lots more to come. I've picked one full size English Cucumber from the greenhouse and I have a lovely lush bed of productive cilantro plants. Otherwise we are eating lots of greens; kale, swiss chard, spinach, lettuce and napa cabbage.

Dustin and I are following a "Clean" Cleanse right now. It is supposed to last two to three weeks and we are on day 11. The basics of the Cleanse are to fast twelve hours overnight, start and end the day with liquid fresh juiced veggies, fruits or vegan smoothies (types of fruits and veggies are limited), and eat a light meal in the middle of the day consisting of easy to digest solids, some meat like fish or chicken allowed. We have been skipping the meat for the most part and sticking with green salads, cherries, nuts and some brown rice, lentil or quinoa salads. For us the goal of the cleanse was to get rid of some toxins and "reset" our bodies. Dustin looks and feels significantly better. I feel about the same, but I wasn't sure how much better I could feel before we started as I already had good energy levels and pretty great. Given that neither of us felt crummy at the get go I'd say that we must not have had too much of a toxic overload. The hardest time is after the kids go to bed, resisting the urge to delve into our night time snacking habit. 

As a result of putting so much time into diet and health, I have been motivated to get better sleep and make some time for myself. Thanks to my mother-in-law who was in town last weekend, I have made it to three yoga classes in seven days. The most recent class I went to was called a SUP yoga class. It was on paddle boards (something that has always appealed to me). So we had an hour instruction on paddle techniques and practice followed by an hour of yoga on the water. As soon as I saw the classes advertised I was somewhat obsessed by the idea of doing yoga on the water, and it was every bit as wonderful as I thought it was going to be. I thought it would take several classes to get comfortable enough to go into inversions or complex poses, but I managed a few partial headstands and managed to not tumble overboard.

Tomorrow is chicken butchering day. We have fifteen Cornish to butcher; which is a nice number for an afternoon. Once they are butchered, there will be three Bourbon Red Turkeys with a lot more room in their moveable hoop-house. The pullets from this year are also scheduled to move into permanent housing this weekend. We have about twenty 2-3 old layers that I'd also like to butcher. I wanted to time it right that we'd butcher previous to a rainy day so that I could spend a rainy day indoors canning chicken. I don't think that will be a problem. Our Augusts are usually cooler and rainier than July. I can only hope that maybe the two months got reversed. We need some warm dry weather otherwise I'm not going to have any tomatoes or winter squash, the strawberries and zucchini are all going to rot... and the mosquitoes are never going to go away.

And now my bed is calling me so I better end my night before I break down and eat the kale chips that are for my afternoon snack tomorrow.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Enjoying July; willow huts, hay and...

This morning I got out of bed at 5:45, not entirely by my own wishes. I have been waking up in time to make Dustin and myself a smoothie before he leaves for work, and this morning was earlier than usual. On the plus side, I finished farm chores by 7, and the kids millet porridge is already cooked and I have time for a quick post before I wake them up. The morning is clear and sunny but there is an unusually cool breeze that reminds me (despite my desire to remain oblivious), that cooler days are not far away. 

Our summer weekends are just a crazy blur. Dustin usually only has Sundays off. And most of those Sundays are booked with either hay getting, chicken butchering, fence mending or animal shifting, shuffling, re-organizing etc. Yesterday we had an ambitious list, of which most things like cleaning out the lower chicken coop so that pullets could get moved into it, cutting down the tree that fell on the fence and re-doing the electric lines so that we could move three pesky bucklings out of the doe pen, did not get down. We did however, sell two very nice doelings to a home I felt very good about, and then we proceeded to spend that money and much more on filling up the hay barn. We've been keeping a close eye on the weather and on the hay farmers and despite several isolated showers managed to bring home around a hundred and fifty bales of brome yesterday that are for the most part, dry, green and leafy. The goats approve. I'm hoping to sell a couple milkers and two more doelings so that this hay lasts longer. We will still need to get another hundred bales or more over the next couple months to get us through until next summer. We had a severe hay shortage here this last winter which had us buying $25 50lb. bales of Alfalfa to mix with our brome, as the brome that was brought in from Canada was the same price as the Alfalfa.

We are trying to balance work and play. I've been thinking of special things to do with the kids to make the summer memorable. They didn't want to go to any of the camps that their friends were going to, but they were envious of the tye die shirts that kids were making at camp. And I was like "psh, you don't have to go to camp to make tye die shirts!" So, now I need to get a move on and go by some white t-shirts and a tye die kit. We've been playing croquet in the garden on Sunday evenings. We built a new fire pit in a much nicer view spot than our old fire pit, and have plans to add some hand made benches. I'm envisioning a couple hot dog on stick and marshmallow roasting nights where the kids are sticky and I get to play my banjo and sing by the fireside.

 On the fourth of July we watched a small parade in Ester with friends and family. It is short and sweet, close to home, and the kids only get a handful or two of candy - which is always a relief to the parents.

 One of my dearest friends just gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Juniper. Avery got to hold her for the first time and has said several times since; "I can't believe I got to hold a baby that was just three weeks old!"

 This weekend Avery got to go to a girlie birthday party. I enjoyed just sitting in the sun, visiting with other parents and watching her have girl time. The water balloon tossing was gentle and careful, the pinata hitting; somewhat tentative and no one got bumped or bruised on the trampoline.

 We love taking Dustin's boss's Stake bed truck out on the hay fields. It has an automatic lift, and it fits over a hundred bales easily. 

 The mushrooms are coming on stronger than ever thanks to the mix of rain and shine. Yesterday Noah and I went foraging and came back with a big basket of what we call Birch Boletes, but according to my book are called Quaking Aspen Boletes, as well as King Boletes also known as Porcini. We fried some up in butter. Dried a dehydrator full and have some in a paper bag in the fridge for today...and the woods are still full of them.

I've been wanting to build a live Willow hut for the kids as we don't have much shade in the garden. It is mostly done. It will take a while for the Willow to root and start growing, but it is serving it's purpose and providing shade for the kids when it is hot and sunny out.





 Of course I picked about the hottest sunniest day to build it.


But, I enjoyed sweating freely in the sun.
 
 Posing in front of the Columbine.

 Every day I give thanks for my strong healthy children. I can't believe my son is eight already. Where does the time go?

 I stretched this novel out as long as I could. I've already got plans to re-read it again and slower.

My favorite place to be on warm summer evenings. This night was the fourth of July and I sat out on the deck drinking the yummiest Strawberry Margaritas that I've ever had and savoring my novel. I didn't come inside until 11:30 and the sun had not yet sunk beneath the hills.

And now I've let the children sleep in too late and they'll not be ready for bed when I am tonight. Happy July to you all!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A summer morning farm chores


I've been waking up before the kids most mornings and milking five does, processing milk, hanging the day before's cheese and starting a new batch of cheese, and starting breakfast before waking the kids up at about eight a.m. This routine has made for smooth peaceful and productive mornings. The other morning I slept in and the kids joined me for a more laid back farm chore routine. It had been rainy the previous few days so by the time we ended up in the garden the kids were actually content to be there and spend some time weeding their gardens and allowing me to get a start on mine.

 My puddle lover.
 
 Wearing out the puppy is a good job for Noah.

 Young pullets, some that we hatched along with some black sex links from the feed store.

 Denali on the left and her dam, Xanadu on the right.
The mosquitoes have been so mild this year that I have been able to milk with the door open EVERY MORNING!! Which I love to do. I just milk away and stare dreamily out the door at the green Birch trees. 

 The kids enjoy playing and finding safety in the hay feeder along with the goat kids that also enjoy playing and finding safety in the hay feeder.


 Heading up the hill for more chicken feeding and watering.


 Avery helping mix chicken feed. Kira was interested in the process...or at least in trying to get in a few licks of salmon meal.

 Cornish and Bourbon Red Turkeys - as of this weekend they are now on pasture for their last few weeks. I'm looking forward to having the Cornish in the freezer and then the turkeys will enjoy a few more months of pasture before joining them.


 One year old layers that are now in a large pen by the garden.

Noah tending his garden.

We are enjoying our summer immensely. We have had a rainier than usual June and as much as we are thankful for all the rain and the good start the garden is having, we are hoping that we still get the hot sunny weather that we anticipate this time of year. 

On Sunny days we spend almost every moment outside weeding or doing various farm chores. And then the next day when it is rainy I'm so thankful that I didn't take the time to sweep the floor the day before and instead have sun on my skin and a weeded garden to show for it. Today is as rainy a day as it can be. The wood stove is going. I made a red lentil soup, baked a loaf of rustic sourdough bread and then made and experimental gluten free sandwich loaf recipe out of Nourishing Meals. 

Meanwhile the drip irrigation has not needed to be installed - we do have a box of hardware that we ordered as well as a large pile of drip tape ready to be laid out. This weekend we butchered our two roosters that were giving us all grief when we would check for eggs. I have yet to make any medicines but we did pick rose petals and make steam distilled rose water and we have been harvesting and cooking with dandelion greens. 

I have been spending my nights reading Diana Gabaldon's newest novel; Written In My Own Heart's Blood. And that would be why I haven't made a post sinec June 10th at least - actually I pre-ordered it so saved some money but got it late. Anyways, I imagine that several of you are diving into the same world during your late summer evenings. As always I look forward to hearing from you and how your summer is going. Happy Late Summer Solstice! And wishing us all many more green, warm and sunny days yet to come.