Thursday, April 26, 2012

April Funk

So, I went to change my header the other day, to something more spring like, and I got a message saying I've maxed out my allotted free picture room. No more pictures until I figure out what to do. I am interested to hear from other bloggers, your experiences and what you've done when you get to this stage. For five dollars I can buy more room. I know it isn't much, but if the blog is going to cost money, it does raise the option that I could post adds and make money... I'm generally very anti add. I don't like clutter on pages or advertisements in general. What do you guys think?

Complete topic change: All I want to do is write and read. What do I fantasize about while washing dishes? Solitude. Days and days to myself. I would clean the house and then it would stay that way. I'd eat salads and nibble on raw foods, and take a complete break from the kitchen, from the stove and dirty dishes. And then I'd sit and let it all pour out at the computer, taking breaks to curl up in the sun with a good book. What does it say about myself and my life that I want to live in fictional worlds other than my own? I've been contemplating this question for a year now, with few answers. I feel like the Little Engine That Could, repeating in my head over and over to myself, "I love my life, I love my life, I love my life." And I do, don't I? Am I having a midlife crisis already or is it just spring time? 

I'm not sure if I've written this already here, or if it has just been on my mind so often - but either way it bears repeating. For most the winter I feel like I'm doing just fine. People are complaining, moaning and groaning all around me about how cold and dark it is and how they'd rather be elsewhere. And I, myself feel just fine. Then about this time of year; March, April, it is like I've woken up from a long dark dreary sleep that I do not want to ever return to. When I think of next winter, my only thought is of ESCAPE! 

We are finally in full spring mode here. Mud and water everywhere. The river down our driveway has finally dried up. There is still a glacier of snow in our backyard. I hunger for warmer days, but I know the end of cold nights will bring an abundance of mosquitoes after all that snow. The bees are collecting pollen. The pussy willows are budding. The goats are laying out in the sun all day. From the middle to late afternoon, if the sun is out, we can get by on the back porch without sweatshirts. But when the sun goes behind the clouds or when the wind blows across the glacier, we are reminded that it is still April. 

I did till two small beds by hand and plant cold hardy greens, scallions and some beets. I covered the beds with clear plastic. Half the garden is still under snow. I laid out plastic row covers from last summer to thaw the beds quicker. The strawberry plants, comfrey and poppies are still green from last year. The iris shoots are coming up. The raspberry canes are budding out. I should feel thrilled with life today, shouldn't I? I suppose it is time to forget about chores and go sit in the sun. I hope you all are feeling perkier than I on this April afternoon.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Spring kids and bees

I'm guessing we have a couple more weeks of spring before the days start to blur into summer. Our snow is fast melting. Our roof is still dripping. Puddles and mud abound, and small rivers run down the road. The goose and ducks are in heaven. We've been staying home most days so we let the ducks and chickens out of their outside pens each morning and close them in again before bedtime. Watching the ducks and goose waddle up and down the road and trails, splashing in all the puddles, well, it almost makes it worth watering them all winter long. Our nights are in the twenties and thirties, with our days reaching into the fifties and sixties. I've washed and put away our snowsuits and we've switched over to rain boots and mud pants. These pictures were taken about a week ago. We still have more snow on the ground than dirt showing, but not for long.

Today I set several goose eggs in the incubator. Rosie, our lone goose is starting to go broody. Today I felt guilty taking two eggs out from under her. She is getting more attached to her nest. I am going to let her start sitting on the remaining eggs. I want her to hatch out some eggs just for the fun of watching a mother goose with her goslings for the summer. We don't plan on keeping any geese next winter.

I'm well into seed starting. I'm feeling a little behind where I'm usually at. But I keep reminding myself that I usually plant seedlings out too early anyway. They don't usually die from the cold, but instead they just take a long time to take off - but I do plant a lot earlier than our official planting out date. So I'm going to try and hold out a little later this year for transplants. Today I started Brassicas, medicinal herbs and 4-6 wk flowers. I made decisions like cutting out the savoy cabbage and just growing a dozen storage cabbage. I started twenty four broccoli plants, five different varieties so we'll have broccoli early and until frost. I made sure to keep the kid's gardens in mind when sowing flower seeds. Both of them are really into the color red. So I started extra red zinnias and a bright calendula for them. Avery helped with the Brassica tray, so I'm pretty sure we might have no plants in some cells and three in others.

We are getting into the summer routine of busting out on house and kitchen chores in the morning hours and then spending the afternoons and early evenings outside. I finally have some sun on my face and arms, the first of hopefully much sun to soak into my skin this season.

Noah turned six last week. He asked and received a bee suit for his birthday from D and I. We picked up our four pound bee package with two queens a couple days later and then hived them on a lovely sunny afternoon. This is my second year doing bees and we are doing it differently last year in an attempt to improve upon our honey yield. I have had a hard time trying to decide the best spot for the hive. Our best early morning sunny sites are in the garden, and beings that the kids and I spend a lot of time up there I didn't really want to have the bees take over a corner. So, we thought we'd try putting them into our abandoned greenhouse. The pluses are that the greenhouse get's great sun, some of the earliest sun on the property all the way till sunset. With the bees being inside the greenhouse, their hives will also stay warmer. I'm hoping that their flight path will be mostly above our heads. The disadvantages to having the bees high up is that we have to climb a ladder up and down to check on them and at some point we'll have to carry all the heavy honey frames down the ladder :) Today we smoked the bees to check and see if the queens had been released from their cages, and Noah and I got smoked out. So, another disadvantage, with the smoke not dissipating as easily as outside. Beings that warmth and sun are some of the biggest challenges for bee keepers up here, I'll take the smoke and the ladder climbing, if the bees do well and don't interfere too much with our garden play space.

 Noah, squirting warm sugar water on the package before opening it.

Hives from the outside. We split the hive into half, putting roughly two pounds of bees into each hive and a queen into each. The plan is to combine the hives at the beginning of the honey flow to maximize population numbers and have the best sized work force. We'll see how it goes. Everything is an experiment each year isn't it? Bees, garden, poultry -egg setting, goats - kidding, and the list goes on. Wouldn't life be boring without experiments?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Zinnia and Avalon's birth stories

 Above is Avalon's two kids. First though my husband has kindly reminded me that I promised a story of Zinnia's kidding. For a week before Zinnia kidded, I thought she was so close I didn't feel comfortable leaving the house. By the time I was absolutely positive she was in labor (for the third time), I was already sleep deprived. The few nights before she went into labor I was getting up and going down to the barn and sitting with her every couple hours. I felt like I had a newborn that week. I don't do well with sleep deprivation. On Wednesday night about eleven p.m. I saw her back and tale arching in definite contractions. So I went to sleep and our schedule went something like this; D checks on her at one a.m., I check on her at three a.m., then four a.m. before deciding that she was close enough that I shouldn't go back to sleep. 

Thank goodness for our goat security camera which is wired into our television as I was able to lay on the couch and watch her in labor. And I watched and watched, she got up and stretched, pawed, contraction, laid back down, up, turn, paw, contraction, laid down again and so it went. By the time I realized I could probably sleep some more I had been drinking some caffeinated tea and eating chocolate chip cookies - oops, but at least I had a really good book to read by headlamp. Before I knew it, it was dawn and the kids were stirring and still no goat babies. And so the day went. Zinnia in labor, slowly progressing, but never getting to that pushing stage.

Now, if you read about goat labor there is always debate; but generally people agree that you wait until the goat is visibly pushing and then you want to see a hoof within a half hour or forty-five minutes. What no one discusses enough is what you do when the goat never gets to the pushing stage. Most people would say that if the doe is getting visibly worn out or looking weaker or going down hill that something is wrong and you go in. I'm beginning to think that if you notice that, you've probably waited too long already. In Zinnia's case, she looked fine, she was just doing her thing and did not seem to be overly agitated or distressed. One concern that I had was that this reminded me of her labor last year and I was hoping that this isn't a pattern. Last year we sat up with her all night and into the next day. When I finally "went in", her doelings were in the correct position, but they weren't close to coming out. I went ahead and pulled them out, but in looking back I thought I must have jumped the gun, or intervened unnecessarily as doe and kids were both strong and healthy. 

My girlfriend Becca was sitting with me and I asked her how long she could stay. She said she needed to leave by ten p.m., and I believe it was about eight thirty p.m. So I decided to see what was going on. I dipped my gloved hand into diluted everclear, then into warm water with J Lube, and carefully worked my way in, one finger at a time until I was up to my elbow. Becca works the front end with her arm around Zinnias neck, cooing and encouraging her. I had to go way in, so again the kids were not coming out anytime soon if ever. She was dialated though, which means that they should have been. Closing my eyes I found one leg and then another and I clasped them both in my right hand, but also felt around and I thought I felt a head between them, so I started to pull him out, (pulling with her contractions and once the legs come out pulling down towards her hocks). Once the legs were out I realized that he was either upside down or backwards. I decided to try and pull it out as it was and ended up being rash and just really pulling with all my might not caring if the kid made it or not at this point. When the kid came out, I realized why he hadn't been coming out, his head was turned back on himself instead of facing forward. Oops, poor mama. Most goat people would agree that this is the most difficult presentation when the head is turned, because the head is used to being turned and wants to go back into that position with every contraction. The usual recommended procedure is to use a kid puller or sterilize a piece of baling twine. You work that in behind their head and under their jaw and then hold tight to keep the head in position while pulling on the front legs. 

The first buckling was pretty much unresponsive and completely limp and floppy. I felt a faint heartbeat but really couldn't take the time to work on him. I set him off to the side. I put on another glove, re-sanitized, re-lubed and went back in to find another kid. Again I found two legs, this time I didn't feel a head so again I thought I had the back two legs. This kid came out easier, but again when he came out he was upside down with his neck turned. He was also unresponsive but had a faint heart beat. I rubbed him briefly before going back in. I was pretty sure there was going to be one more kid in there and there was. This time I grabbed small legs and easily pulled out a doeling. The doeling was in the correct position and in decent shape. We quickly put her in front of her dam who was very happy to see here and took off licking and talking to her immediately, despite how awful she must have felt. 

We started rubbing the second buckling. I wish I'd had cayenne tincture to put on his gums and chest. Instead I had dried cayenne which I rubbed into his gums. From now on I'll keep the tincture in my kidding kit. It is a heart starter and one of the most recommended emergency herbs for this sort of situation. We tried a little CPR on the guy, but he didn't make it either. Fortunately Zinnia has a daughter to love and care for. We quickly got the boys out of the barn,  hoping she wouldn't be too sad. 

After a couple hours of drying off the doeling and getting her to nurse we finally headed inside where we could watch dam and doeling on the t.v. I headed back down before going to bed to see if I could get the doeling to nurse one more time. While I was down there I noticed that Avalon was in labor. She is a first timer, so I was pretty sure I had time for some sleep. 

Avalon didn't really get going until the next afternoon. After a labor like Zinnia's I was extra alert, worried that Avalon was taking too long to progress, not wanting to jump the gun but not wanting to make the same mistake twice of not going in soon enough. Early afternoon I lubed up and went in a little to see if she was dilated and she wasn't, so I worked her cervix a bit and backed out. I sat with her for another couple hours before she finally began to push. She was close to pushing a kid out and I was getting worried that she might push out a big head first and then I'd have a hard time getting the legs, so I called Dustin down to help hold her. I lubed up and went in and sure enough there was a head right there about to come out. I reached down the right side, following his neck and felt the front of his left leg folded back underneath itself and I got a couple fingers underneath and pulled his leg forward. Then I went down the other side of his neck and that leg was completely flat against his body so again I reached back till I could get fingers under his leg and pull it out. Then I had both front hooves and I slowly pulled as she pushed. He was a good size buckling so it took her a while to push him out. But we just took it slow and steady till he made it. He was a healthy normal kid, so we cleared his nostrils and began to dry him off. We set him in front of his mom, but she was pretty distracted and we figured there was another one coming. I lubed up and went back in and there was a doeling in the correct position who came out easily. She too was healthy and in good shape. And here are some pictures.

 Doeling is black and brown on left, buckling is more tan and black with some white, right.

Avalon's kids were so healthy. These were the first kids that we've had that stayed up on their feet for several hours before laying down to rest. Avalon is a very attentive mom, and fortunately for us she is not too overly protective like Zinnia, who is a bit on the vicious side- I've almost been bit in the face a few times. Zinnia's doeling is named Wild Roots Clary Sage, nick named Clary, after both the herb and one of my favorite heroines from this winter's reading. Avalon's daughter is named Wild Roots Camelot, nick named Camy or Cameo. They are both very sweet and enjoy being held and loved on. Both will be for sale. The buckling will not be named unless he is registered as a buck - because you don't name animals you might eat. :) 

Our next doe due is Zuri. She is due the second week of May. Rose and Bluebell may be due in August. And now, I am past due to milk some goats.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lady Lamanchas, Zinnia and doeling

 Zinnia and doeling Clary, story coming...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Spring Fever

I've got it bad; restlessness, the need to feel productive, to be making something, growing something, creating, but crafty projects just seem meaningless right now. Spring Fever. I have the urge to be outdoors in the sun, but when I get out there it isn't as warm as it looks, even with the bright sun. 

The winters are long here. Our homestead was poorly planned. We didn't plan. We were going to build a small house and then sell it. Then we built a hovel for my horse so she could live here - before our house was liveable by most people's standards. Then our son came along. Then the goats and chickens. The house needed to be bigger so we added on. This is the "Alaskan Way" and we are Alaskans. We are located on a steep hillside with tiny flat spots here and there. In the summer it is no big deal. This time of year our tiny slippery steep trail system is treacherous. We look back on the winter and realize how little we've accomplished. We survived. We stayed alive, warm and fed. We kept our animals fed. They kept us fed. We didn't get ahead.

We look at each other this time of year and think, "whew, we've got six months to be better prepared for next winter." And we wonder is this how we want to live? Will we be able to do this in ten years? Twenty, Thirty? It is spring fever speaking, or at least that is what I tell myself today. It will pass with the snow. Once I can see dirt, grass, brown and green I'll be cured. The summer will sooth and heal and rejuvenate me. I am strong. I was made for this lifestyle. I love my life. But it could be easier. It doesn't have to be this much work does it? 

I have pasture envy. Farm land envy. What is farm land? Land with good soil, good water, good sun exposure, possible clear pasture already, a stream, slough or pond. We can work with that. I know we won't be finding my old farmhouse and traditional old barn up here. My husband and I have been on the land hunt this past year. If it were up to him, he would be looking somewhere warmer. I insist that we just need level land. Land with water. Land that faces south or has better sun exposure. If we had good soil, water, and level or gradual sloping land, sun streaming in the window even on the darkest days... So at first we were looking for land that could be farmland. Level land with water. Then we started looking at small farms for sale. There isn't a lot of either available close to town. So our search has been taking us farther from town. 

Dreamer that he is, D started searching for farms for sale on the east coast this week. (Let it be noted that the east coast is like a foreign country to me) Farms with old farmhouses and barns, pastures and established orchards (he knows my weaknesses). I know the farms we are finding are crazy cheap for a reason, mainly depressed economy. While property and housing prices are still high here. While we are not really looking to buy a farm elsewhere, it did get us thinking that before we do invest everything we have in a farm here, maybe we should get away while we still can. We feel very committed and bound to our homestead and animals. We leave, at most for two weeks a year and it takes so much planning and multiple amazing house-sitters/farm helpers to accomplish that. This week I've realized that anything is possible. Traveling and exploring with our children is still possible. There are ways to take a break from this lifestyle. We could sell our animals and come back in a year and buy some of them back. Or we could lease them. There are options. I love our homestead, our animals, this unique life that we are giving our children. Yet, I feel that they would benefit from road trips, more vacations, seeing other states, countries, lifestyles. I know this is spring fever expressing itself. 

Acknowledging that I could make these dreams a reality, is exhilarating. Here is to spring fever dreaming and whatever craziness comes of it! Cheers!