Sunday, March 31, 2013

Goat walks

At the end of a long but enjoyable Easter day of hosting, cooking, feasting and visiting, I don't have much energy for writing, but I have been thinking about you guys and wishing I had more time and energy for sharing. So, here a few pictures of the kids and I taking the goats for a walk down our driveway. For a while we were getting out almost daily for walks with the herd, then it got cold - below zero and I went back to doing chores by myself while the kids played legos or playmobile inside. As it warms up we should be getting back out together as we all need our exercise.

We sold another doe last week; Avalon, a three year old bred does went to a new home. I've been missing her this week. I was intending to sell her this spring or summer just because of my herd reduction desires, but she is just about the perfect goat. Not only did she have good conformation, udder and awesome teats, but she was a sweet doe, good with the kids, an easy kidder and a well behaved milker. We do have her dam, which is Xanadu, who is the brown doe in the picture with Noah. We also have her daughter who is a yearling. We are down to five does right now. I am milking one doe, once a day and getting a half gallon of wonderful milk. It is just a breeze to milk one goat once a day, and the rest of farm chores are so fast. I can get outside and back in before the kids notice I'm gone. We have two does who I believe are bred, Zinnia, due in April and Xanadu, due in May. Then two doelings to breed in the fall. I love these numbers. While farm chores will get lengthier as chicks hatch and goats kid, the summer is looking more simple and manageable than the last few years, so, whew!

Enjoyed our brined and smoked Easter ham today. We also had a butter lettuce salad with candied hazelnuts, pears, blue cheese and a meyer lemon white balsamic and pear vinaigrette that was fabulous. Followed by the ham main course with a golden beet salad, pumpkin butter rolls, roasted asparagus and a tasty ham dripping sauce, accompanied by lots of good wine and followed up with my Dad's notorious cheese cake. Yum. Wishing you all sunny days growing warmer, wherever you are.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March Balance

Despite the zero degree days and a few feet of snow on the ground, it feels like spring around here. The sun has returned full force and the dark days are behind us. We rise with the sun, spend our day enjoying the sunlight whether we are indoors or out. I have been planning my day with sunlight in mind. In the mornings when the sun is just starting to come into the house I can go into the darker rooms and hallways to tidy and clean or head outside for chores, but once afternoon comes around and the living room is filled with glorious sun shine, that is where I have to be, whether I'm sweeping, tidying, doing lessons, playing cards with the kids or reading.

Ask anyone in the Interior and probably even in the State and there is a communal sense of triumph and celebration in March. We have made it through the darkest and coldest months. And for the next several months it only gets brighter and warmer. Here in Fairbanks we rarely experience a balance of daylight. Our winter months are crazy long and dark, and at winter solstice we only see four or five hours of sunlight (I think - but it seems like less.) By midsummer we have the extreme of daylight way past midnight with only a few hours of dusk. Whenever I travel anywhere warm, it feels so odd to me when it gets dark at night, because our summers never get truly dark until mid August, and by then our nights are crisp and cool. So I associate warmth with summer months and constant daylight, and darkness with cold winter months. Equinox is it's own sort of strange. We are not accustomed to balance, only one extreme or the other.

This week the kids and I blew out goose eggs to decorate. Noah cut down a four foot willow tree outside. It is planted now, and is soon to become our decorated Spring tree. I'll take pictures once we get all our eggs hung and decorated. Yesterday we set five goose eggs in the incubator. I couldn't resist. I love having geese around in the summer. They are so curious and entertaining. Unlike ducks and chickens, the geese are interested in what we are doing and want to be where we are. They make for delightful companions with the exception of some mature ganders.

The first seedling rack is up and running. I wish, like some of you that I could start all my seeds outside in the greenhouse, alas, that is not my reality. We make do with what we have, and if I had to trudge uphill through three feet of snow carrying water jugs to get to my seedlings, well, they wouldn't receive very good care anyhow, so I put them where I can see them all day and not forget to water them. So far onions, shallots, leeks, thyme and basil are up. The kids and I were looking at flowers and watermelon in the seed catalogs today and I told them we'd plant some tomorrow - which is crazy early, but we'll just plant a few and maybe we'll have some spring flowers as well as a watermelon by the end of the summer.

This month is spring cleaning month for me. Next month is both Noah's and my mom's birthday as well as goat kidding season and serious seed starting time. Now is the time to sort out the pantry and scrub the cupboards and walls - my least favorite chores. I pulled out a ham the other day to brine and smoke for Easter. I started a special cheese, I believe it is called Annette's cheese - I'll have to check and make sure I've got that right. It is basically a simple moldy wheel of chevre. I am excited to be using a different mold than usual and have high hopes for the grassy flavor it is said to impart on it's subject. Right now it is the sole item in our back up fridge as it is supposed to be aged at fifty degrees- much to my husband's dismay, as his beer is forced to fit here and there in our main fridge which is always packed.

Thinking of the balance of light and dark reminds me to seek balance in my days. I have been trying not to overdo the cleaning projects- as much as I want to delve in, and instead I'm trying to tackle just enough that when the kids are ready for me, I can sit down with them. Noah has learned how to play rummy, and we play several games a day, in the late afternoon and after dinner- moving our game so that I can be sitting wherever the sun is shining - of course :)  I am reading Charlotte's Web to the kids, and we are all loving it. The past two days I've been painting a village house scene that will be a story prop for our lessons. I spent about five hours painting houses today, and was in heaven. The kids and I coordinated perfectly, they playing wonderfully together all day while I painted in the sun. I wish every day was so smooth. I'm trying to enjoy the good days and not be overly disappointed and grumpy on their difficult days. Which brings me back to balance. Balance of light and dark, cold and warmth, happy days and frustrating days. I am just learning to not overdo so much that I run out of energy, time, love. To hold some in reserve and not spend it all at once. To be able to summon up some tender words and feelings even when I don't easily feel it.

Happy Equinox. Wishing you all days filled with balance and peaceful moments.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Rose; and then there were six

As of today we are down to six goats, which is the number we started with six years ago this spring. Today we had friends come up and kill and butcher one of our first milkers, Rose. It was one of the hardest decisions I've made. I took the kids to town. We went to the toy store and the library and when we came home she was gone without much of a trace. Rose was one of our first four doelings we brought up from Washington. She and Xanadu were both around eight weeks when they showed up in a crate together. I warmed up milk, poured it into bottles and put the bottles into six pack holders and carried them up the hill with one year old Noah on my back, three times a day for a couple months that summer. I bonded with our first six kids more than any that have come since. I thought I would keep our first four always and take care of them into their old age even when they were done producing kids or milk for us. But that is not how it went at all. We lost one of our first four to an impacted abomasal. Thankfully I still have her daughter Zuri, who has always been one of my favorites. Then last year I sold Xoe. I was just getting into downsizing the herd and found a good home for her. We lost the first buck a while back and the second one this winter. For the last year I've had Rose and Xanadu, their daughters and grand daughters. Out of the original six, there is only Xanadu left.

Last winter Rose was supposed to be pregnant but she ended up with some sort of uterine infection. We gave her antibiotics and it seemed like she was back on track. We decided not to breed her and give her the year off. She went back into heat in March, and she was always super vocal when she was in heat. So I talked to the vet and we thought that her body must be recovered and it would be ok to breed her again. She ended up having what we think was a false pregnancy also known as a cloud pregnancy. Where the doe thinks she is pregnant but her uterus just fills with fluid instead of kids. The vet came up this fall and ultra sounded Rose's uterus when she didn't kid. She said that something was wrong with her uterus and that I should search Metritis when looking for solutions. There really didn't seem to be any solutions. A text book I ran across said that some attempts have been made to put a tube up into the uterus to flush it out, or maybe apply medicine or antibiotics topically? I can't remember exactly because it seemed rather far fetched and a little too late for that.

After some herbal research I decided to give Rose one last chance and for about five to six weeks this fall I gave Rose and herbal drench twice a day as well as a coconut herbal suppository daily, the idea being that the suppository of herbs would nourish and heal her uterus. She came into heat a few months back and I re-bred her, hoping against the odds that she'd recovered. This past month she has been oozing goo, which is what happened last winter when we realized that she wasn't pregnant. She has also had a staff infection this week on her udder and belly which I've been washing with herbal rinses and smearing with salve. I suspect that dealing with uterine issues has lowered her overall immune strength.

I had lost all hope that Rose would ever be able to be bred or milked again. She is going on six years old, which is just approaching middle age. People often breed their milkers until they are ten or eleven, and then the does continue to live a couple years before dying of natural causes, which is what I'd hoped for all our milkers. If I had a large barn and an endless supply of cash, my decision may have been different, but I don't. I am not opposed to feeding and keeping one or two wonderful does into old age and past their reproductive years. But the idea of keeping Rose as a pet for the next several years really wasn't an option I was willing to consider. Ok, I did consider. Rose has always been very well behaved for me, but she isn't overly friendly with strangers and I have to watch her around my kids as she'll butt them if she gets a chance. So, finding a home for her as a pet was pretty unlikely.

I've always loved Rose's udder and teats. She has been our best overall producer with the longest lactations. She also had the beset conformation. Her topline was as level as could be, her rump one of the widest and most level I've ever seen. She never had trouble kidding. I always hoped she'd have a white or light red doeling like herself, but all her white kids were bucklings, except one doeling that was born weak that we lost.

Rose kidded four years in a row. She kidded to six bucklings and three doelings. We have her daughter Zinnia; going on four, Zinnia's youngest daughter, Clary. I have a friend who has Bramble, Rose's second and only other daughter as well as Bella, Zinnia's first daughter. Then we have friends in Tok who own Bella's twin Blue, who just kidded yesterday to a buckling and doeling. So Rose lived to be a great grandma. We also have some friends with the only intact buck out of Rose. I don't think either of her daughters inherited as wide and level a rump as Rose had. They are both beautiful does however, as are all three granddaughters.

This morning the kids and I put her on the stand and fed her treats and grain. She had no clue as we thanked her for her life, milk and kids, but we said it just the same. It has been a sad decision to make, but one that I've known may be coming for over a year now. So it wasn't sudden. It is time to make room for kidding season, new lives. I have to say I am relieved to have more dried herbs, kelp and alfalfa for the pregnant does. The grain and hay will stretch even farther now. I'd like to think that Rose enjoyed her six years with us. She had a good place in the herd. We tried to give her a healthy and happy existence as a dairy goat.

Rose five years old, summer walk, 2012

Rose with her first doeling, Zinnia, 2009
Rose cleaning her son, second kidding, 2009