Thursday, May 24, 2012

Summer arrives in Interior Alaska

Finally, it is the time of year I live for; summer. Most locals I talk to agree that a Fairbanks summer is defined as the period of time when the Birch leaves are green. We had "green up" about two weeks ago; that week where the hills and woods go from brown to spring green over the course of the week, or in some cases during a single afternoon. June and July give us our hottest, sunniest and longest days. By August, the temperatures are cooling off, the nights are growing dark, patches of gold leaves are spotted and in low lying areas, frost is pretty much inevitable. 

When my husband and I first met, oh so long ago, he commented on my extensive summer wardrobe. I replied in complete sincerity, that "summer was my favorite month." And it is. My favorite summer's are more like two and a half months. Then of course spring is usually a couple weeks here, and I need not go on. 

At first sight, you would think me presently sunburned - but really I'm just getting going on my summer glow. The kids are also pink. They've been playing "cave men" lately, which entails running around outside in nothing more than shorts - sometimes as early as nine a.m., when it is still pretty cool. They are sporting a large number of bruises, scratches, scrapes, bug bites and they've already had numerous run ins with splinters and rose bush prickles. 

Our nights are no longer getting dark, but rather are dusky from about midnight till three or so. Most of us sleep fine. Although the rooster has been making a lot of racket starting at 4 a.m. Today, I wised up and closed him inside the coop so at least he will be muffled by the walls. We've been sleeping with the upstairs windows open, which face the coop. So the entire morning is filled with bird calls, chicks peeping downstairs, overlayed with the lovely robin melodies which are rudely punctuated and overwhelmed by rooster crows. 

The woods are spring green. The air sweet and moist. I recall thinking last year at this time that listening to the mating calls of the thrush was my favorite part of early summer. I guess I don't think I can chose a favorite this year. Feasting my deprived eyes on all the green life springing up around me and inhaling the sweet sweet air are two things that I don't ever think I can get my fill of. 

I'm in love with everything right now; my home, our woods, the view, the does and their kids, the goose with her goslings, my garden, working in the soil, and above all, spending my days outside with my children. Rosie was due to hatch her eggs last week. The time came and went and she continued to diligently sit. In fear that we'd have a depressed goose sitting on rotten eggs, I had my husband bring home two, just hatched goslings from the feed store. I carried them tucked in my shirt and sneakily stuck them under Rosie. She took to them right away. I snuck her eggs out from under her and decided to have a look in a dark room with the flashlight. All of them were fertile and only one was definitely bad. I couldn't see movement but they looked like they just needed a few more days. Oops. Lesson: Before paying eighteen dollars a piece for goslings from the feed store, first candle eggs to be sure they aren't going to hatch. As she should have, she abandoned her eggs and is a very proud mama, caring for her two goslings. I thought about putting her eggs in the incubator for a week, but it is just more trouble than it's worth. Lesson learned.

The garden is coming along nicely. Most of the direct seeding is done. I started planting starts just the last couple days after lots of bed prepping. I've been checking the weather forecast twice daily, as it changes so fast. More than worrying about cold night temperatures, I was waiting for clouds and rain in the forecast for several days, so the starts won't just bake in merciless sun. It seems like every year, for the end of May and most of June we get warm sunny days and hardly a drop of rain. Even the heat loving plants get stressed with all the non stop sun. So, this year I'm really trying to take advantage of overcast rainy days for planting. So far onions, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and squash are transplanted, the later under shade cloth and clear plastic. Peas, scallions and beets are coming up. Carrots, radishes, greens, kohlrabi, and turnips are seeded. I need to buy and plant seed potatoes soon. Such and exciting busy time of year. I wish I had pictures to share. I'm going to take the camera on the rounds with me this next week, upload pictures and then hopefully that will motivate me to fix my blogger photo hangup. Well, best wishes to you all wherever you are at in your spring-slash-summer.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Zuri's second kidding story

It is a typical May morning here. The kids and I got an early start on farm chores and milking this morning. A friend of mine came up and we chased and caught ducks together, with Noah's help, of course. Rosie the goose is due to hatch her eggs this Friday. Now the hopefully soon to be mother has her surroundings to herself. After a short stint in the garden and the swing set we made it back to the house where I processed the milk that was chilling. Now, a fresh batch of yogurt is incubating. The bread dough started. Nine flats of seedlings are set out to harden off, bearing the brunt of the cooler outdoor temperature and the light wind and sun -we'll they're shaded somewhat. The kid's are upstairs playing and it isn't even lunch yet. I was thinking it was time to prepare for our main lesson of the day, but remembered I'd yet to tell you guys of Zuri's kidding. Sorry, no pictures yet. Just haven't gotten around to dealing with picture/blogger stuff.

Zuri kidded to one black and brown doeling and one black and tan buckling on Saturday. I noticed her ligaments were going on Friday morning, then were gone and she was noticeably in early labor Friday night. She was only at day 145 and her udder was not filled out yet. She wasn't having arching contractions yet, but she was very verbal, affectionate and pawing for the first time. I was hesitant to go to sleep and decided I could get away with three hours to start, then I was afraid to sleep more than an hour at a time for the rest of the night - which is probably why I succumbed to a cold Sunday.

Her labor progressed gradually as I ate breakfast, did morning chores, ate lunch. Then around one p.m. she started pushing. Her doeling came out in the correct diving position. She was good sized and healthy. Noah has been wanting to name a doeling for a while, and came up with Cila, (seelah). Zuri was sooo excited about her daughter that her labor pretty much came to a complete halt for about an hour. It would be pretty unlikely that she just had one kid for her second kidding. I don't know if you guys remember but last year Zuri had one healthy silver doeling. I don't know what happened to her, but my guess is that Zuri accidentally kicked her in the head or something, because when I did my first after kidding check, the doeling was completely limp and unresponsive. We brought her into the house and dripped her dam's milk down her throat with a drenching syringe for a day, before she was strong and standing again. We put her back in with her much relieved dam. The next morning I found her dead, outside her pen. She had escaped through a narrow slat in the gate, and had been stomped by another doe. Zuri was so devastated that for weeks she continued to call and look for her doeling. Finally, she adopted Xanadu's daughter. Xan had triplets, and was more into feeding her two strong bucklings than her much smaller weaker doeling. Zuri took over mothering Bali, nursing her and watching out for her. Needless to say, Zuri is very excited to be given another chance at motherhood.

I tried bouncing Zuri; a technique where you lift up in front of their udder and see if you feel more bones; kid parts. She was starting to resume her contractions and lay down and get back up but nothing was coming out, and it seemed like it was time for the next kid to get out. So, D came down to hold her. I gloved and lubed up and went in. The second kid was pretty far in and not close to coming out. The first thing I felt was pointed and angular, not a nose or a hoof. I followed it forward and realized it was the back hock  (I think that is the correct name although it sounds funny) of his leg. He was backwards with both his legs straight forward under his belly from the hock on. I had to push it forward and get a grip further down towards his hoof, then gently pull it back, then the other leg. Holding onto both hooves finally, I pulled and she pushed and he came out. He was still in good shape, although a little smaller and weaker than his sister. Today I got Zuri out of her stall for the first time. She ate her grain on the milk stand while I milked her full side, as the kids tend to go for the easier, emptier side all the time. 

This was our last spring kidding. Rose may be due in August. Now there is just the disbudding, wethering, registering, weaning and selling. Whew. This is why we are downsizing. We had three goats kid this spring and that is plenty. I think two does kidding each spring is the perfect number - enough to get our goat kid fill. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Summer Day Aspirations

Today is going to be a beautiful day. I awoke to the beautiful songs of the thrush outside in our woods. One of the many things I forget how much I love this time of year. Our house of course is filled with the sound of week old chicks cheeping. Upstairs their cheeps are muted and I can hear the rooster up the hill and all the wild birds in the woods. I can't wait to sleep with the window open...

Today and the next two days are supposed to be sunnier and warmer than the rest of the week. I am taking the weather forecast seriously and will be terribly disappointed if it doesn't come true. After our morning house chores, bread baking, lessons and lunch, I am looking forward to spending the afternoon in the garden; turning beds and planting soaked peas and beet seed. The seedling rack is full with fourteen trays of starts lined up - room for two more. I'm starting to set some of the biggest starts outside for a couple hours each afternoon in the shade. 

My husband is starting his crazy summer work schedule, roughly six days of ten hour shifts. I've been steadily working up to resolving to wake early with him and get chores and milking done while the kids are still asleep. If, and a big IF it is, I can accomplish this, my mornings and days with the kids will be oh so much more serene and peaceful. If I can tip toe inside with the milk pails and filter milk. Then brew  a cup of tea, maybe read a book or do a few yoga stretches while waiting for the kids to wake up. 

I am aspiring for the majority of my summer days to look like this: Peaceful early morning milkings by myself, productive sunny kitchen mornings with the kids playing indoors; getting lessons done and food made for the day, followed by relaxed afternoons; playing and working in the garden or laying around on the back porch reading library books and coloring with the kids. And finally, finished off with simple meals from the garden, mostly grilled and enjoyed on the pack porch. 

What do you envision your ideal summer days looking like?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

May growth

First, I want to thank you all for the thoughtful feedback. For now I'll be paying for more room so I can add more pictures. Switching over to Wordpress may be in my future. I would love to have a quality camera in the next year with which I can take better quality pictures as well. I envy so many of your beautiful photographs that accompany your stories and sharing.

May Day did not bring spring weather to interior Alaska. Instead the thermometer read eighteen degrees mid afternoon. On top of that it was windy and snowing. Unfortunately we had a big outdoor May Day celebration planned at a local farm with our Waldorf community. Preparing for the afternoon I first pulled out long underwear, water pants and rain coats. By the time we were ready to leave I'd pulled our winter bag back out of storage and had packed snowsuits, winter coats, hats, scarves and gloves. The weather was just as nasty as it could be, and I kept thinking, "Only in Fairbanks would no one even think of canceling for weather." Needless to say, no one was interested in outdoor pottery, face painting or marbling. We did manage to enjoy ourselves, the kid's more than myself.

The week has continued to be cold and glum. My poor little seedlings in the garden... I had beet seedlings and all sorts of hardy greens poking their heads up under plastic row covers. I peeked on them yesterday and they aren't completely frozen. I had also taken off the front door minimizers on the bee hives, and ended up tacking them back on. So the ground is once again hard and frozen at least on the surface. The livestock water bins, once more in various degrees of frozen states. Maybe it is just principle, but instead of plugging them back in I've just been hacking at the tops with ice picks or shovels. 

In other news, Rosie, our lone female goose is continuing to diligently sit on her eggs. Our chickens and six remaining adult ducks have been immensely enjoying free ranging around the property from morning till dusk - despite the fact that all the mud and puddles the ducks were relishing last week are solid this week. A friend of mine is going to pick up the ducks before Rosie is due to hatch out her goslings. So, she'll have some new mommy space to herself which she is going to appreciate.

We started delivering milk again this week for our Goat Shareholders. I barely have enough milk. I'm counting heavily on Zuri, who will be kidding in the next couple weeks to help out. We now have twenty-seven layer chicks in a brooder in our hallway. I ended up ordering chicks after all, after realizing that I could order the exact chicks I wanted, when I wanted them, for cheaper than the feed store could and without all the hassle. We have speckled sussex, partridge plymouth rocks, barred rocks (they were suppose to be buff barred rocks :( ) and blue laced red Wyandottes. This was my first time ordering chicks and having them arrive within one day of shipping. They all made it and are doing well. They are eating lots of eggs; fried, hard boiled and scrambled. They have garlic, a little honey and vinegar in their water. Their feed is local ground wheat, oats and barley, ground corn, quinoa, kelp and fish meal.

This has been the season for contemplation and decisions. We are making a slight veer off our current path and changing directions for the time being. We've decided that we want to put less money, time and energy into livestock husbandry. We have been putting a significant portion of our budget into feed animals. We also are still in the building stages, and have been sinking a lot of money into our house, but we are on the home stretch and our new addition is nearing completion. Between the house and the animals, we have not had extra fun money, travel money and really it feels like we are just scraping by most the time. This year is going to be our last year (for a while anyway) of doing goat shares. It feels like we just really got going, and I hate to disappoint people. Selling goat shares almost covers most of our feed costs. Yet, without so many goats, we wouldn't need to sell shares. This winter I found myself dreaming of a day when I just own a couple dear milkers. I thought, maybe when I'm an old woman I'll just need a couple does, and I'll drive them to see a buck every other year... The more I think about it the more appealing it looks. 

It is not just about cost. It is equally about having time for my children and family. Time, energy, patience, to be able to relax and enjoy their childhood and not feel rushed or stressed or that feeding, milking, breeding or kidding takes precedence over their wants and needs. As I've been reading some Waldorf approaches to parenting and discipline, I'm gaining a different perspective on what kind of parent I want to be. I do not want to be the mom who is too busy to set aside blank to stop and give full attention to her child's needs, and that is who I tend to be too often.

My plan to minimize mouths and simplify chores for the year goes something like this: By fall our ducks and geese will have found new homes. We will have one chicken coop with twenty some layers. Our three bucks will be two in number and will move out of their home way high up on the hill which is a pain to get water to in the winter, (and hay if we run out), and down to the current duck/goose stall and pen. I plan on milking four to five milkers until December or January. I am going to try and sell all- most of the doelings, possibly along with our two yearlings. By next year, I'd love to be down to four milkers. Ideally I'd like to just breed a couple does each year. At some point I'd like to take a break from keeping bucks. I do plan on keeping a couple bee hives each summer as well as raising a small batch of Cornish Cross for meat. And of course, I have big plans for the garden. I'm focusing less on heat loving plants and more on medicinal perennials. We are expanding our raspberry rows and strawberry patches this year.

Next winter we are hoping to leave our home and animals in our capable house sitter's hands and get out and travel to warmer climates for a couple months - yeah, preferably months, not just a couple measly weeks. We both feel the need to see what else is out there before we commit to investing everything we have into a farm or large land purchase here. I have always thought I'd grow old here in Interior Alaska. Maybe I just need a reminder of how good we have it. Right now, it is hard to imagine living this lifestyle here, when I'm elderly. On one hand a farming lifestyle keeps you in shape and healthy. But then we are already feeling and looking haggard during our winters. 

I love what we've been doing. I love our homestead, our animals, our lifestyle. We are both trying to figure out if we really want to do it here. At the same time, we are realizing that everything doesn't need to happen now. We have time. Time to make mistakes, time to learn, time to change course and break a new trail. And now, it is time I head down to the goat barn, toss hay and put away the goat kids for the night. Goodnight.