Out With the Old, In With the New

We had such a large number of lambs born (and survive) last year, it was impossible to take them all to the butcher in one trip. Our solution was to take a first batch last October, with all the large males, and to keep the runts and females to see if we could fatten them up a bit. I even planned to try butchering one of the small ones myself, just to see if I could figure it out.

One thing led to another (or, more precisely, one bitterly cold snowstorm led to another) all winter, and I never did get around to trying my hand at butchering a lamb…or even driving the second batch in to the butcher.

Finally, today, I got my act together and cleared out the seven remaining lambs. They’d been eating us out of house and home, plowing through the hay that needs to last until the pasture begins growing — but they weren’t putting on much weight. Yesterday, I made the call to the butcher to see if I could get them in; Wednesdays are the only day they do lambs and goats. Fortunately, they had some availability, so I made the appointment.

I went out to the barn early this morning, to make sure everything was okay with the sheep. I flipped on the lights, and immediately noticed the Scooter the Border Collie was acting a bit unusual. He seemed extremely interested in what was going on in the sheep area, was wagging his tail purposely, and had his muzzle tucked into the fence separating him from the sheep. One quick look revealed what had Scooter so interested: a tiny black lamb, tottering near the fence.

Maybelle, one of our best mother ewes, was hovering protectively over the lamb, not quite understanding that Scooter was only trying to be protective (and helpful), too. A moment later, I spotted another tiny black lamb…and realized that Maybelle had done it again: delivered twins, and delivered before any of the other ewes. Her streak now extends to seven years in a row.

The arrival of Maybelle’s twins (one male and one female) meant it was doubly important to get those seven extra lambs from last year out of the sheep pen. All the extra bodies would only multiply the opportunity for little lambs to get trampled.

I managed to get our old 1984 Ford Bronco II fired up, and the rear seats folded down. Spread some old paper feed bags on the floor to catch sheep droppings, and then backed her into the barn. Homeschooled Farm Boy (HFB) helped make sure we barricaded both sides of the Bronco, to discourage any escape attempts. He then helped me pick up Maybelle’s lambs, and we used those as bait to lure her outside to the fenced sheep paddock. We also got Dilemma, our big breeding ram, out of the barn; he would have been liable to attack us as we caught the lambs to load them on the truck.

With the barn door shut, Scooter, HFB and I quickly caught lamb after lamb and hauled them into the back of the Bronco. The hardest part was hoisting each lamb up and in, and closing the rear hatch door, without any of the already-loaded lambs pushing their way out. Fortunately, between the three of us, we managed to get all seven loaded without any escapees.

As there is only one spare seat in the Bronco once all the lambs are loaded, our children take turns being the one who gets to ride with me to the butcher. This was HFB’s turn, which he thought was very exciting. Scooter always goes as well, in case he’s needed to quell a jail break. (The Bronco’s rear window does not latch, and we have had animals — particularly goats — try to escape at stop signs. Plus, when unloading at the butcher’s, anything can happen.) So, at about 7:40am, all of us set off.

With seven four-legged passengers in the back, and one four-legged passenger up front with us humans, we had a very full vehicle. The seven passengers in the back were particularly upset about having missed breakfast. Also, every time we went around a corner or came to a stop, all seven of them would tumble in one direction or another — and I would have to look carefully to make sure none was attempting an escape through that rear window. Needless to say, I made sure I obeyed all the traffic laws as I drove; I couldn’t imagine the conversation with a police officer, were I to get pulled over.

With HFB’s help, and Scooter looking on attentively, the unloading went off without incident. Once all seven lambs were secured in the holding pen on Death Row, I went around to the retail portion of the shop and explained to the butcher how I’d like the lambs prepared. HFB, Scooter and I then sped off to Mass in town; we managed to arrive just in time for HFB to get dressed to serve on this the Feast of the Annunciation.

Once back home, we were able to get some good pictures of Maybelle and her lambs (both of which seem to be doing very well):

Just another crazy day in the life of a homeschooling yeoman farm family. A family, I might add, that is looking forward to lots of dinners featuring delicious Icelandic lamb.

Piglet The Goat Kid

I have given up trying to figure out the names that our children come up with for various animals on our farm. As long as it’s a certainty that the animal in question will eventually be going off to the butcher, I don’t mind too much. (The two most recent goat kids we had butchered were named “Naughty” and “Less Naughty,” respectively…and our children now seem to be recycling those names for the latest twin male goat kids.)

Which brings us to Piglet. Who, despite the name, is a goat kid.

Last Wednesday, Queen Anne’s Lace delivered a pair of beautiful kids. After just a couple of days, however, the male kid was developing problems. He was struggling to get up and nurse, and had a raspy noise in his lungs. Homeschooled Farm Girl immediately realized something was wrong, and reported the problem to Mrs Yeoman Famer.

This proved to be a very good move. Had she come to me, I would have told her “It’s just the male kid. We’ll only be butchering him anyway, and his meat isn’t worth the veterinary bills. And besides, at just two days old, he doesn’t have the reserves to survive whatever he’s sick with. Which is probably pneumonia.”

MYF also diagnosed pneumonia…but took a different approach. She simply announced that she was taking the kid to the vet clinic in the next town over. Period. I ran through my objections, to which she listened politely…and then insisted that we should do everything in our power to save this kid. Because in her opinion, we’d discovered his pneumonia early enough to do something about it.

I grudgingly agreed, and got back to work. MYF sped off to the vet, and after spending some time in the waiting room (enduring odd/curious looks from all the people who had brought more conventional pets), the vet confirmed our diagnosis of pneumonia. Most likely, the kid aspirated some milk while nursing — essentially “sucked it down the wrong pipe,” getting moisture in his lungs. In the chilly barn, it didn’t take long to develop into pneumonia. He gave the kid a shot of antibiotic, and then gave MYF several more syringes of antibiotic to inject over the next days. He suggested we keep the kid in our warm house, and bottle feed him until (1) he was stronger and (2) the barn warmed up a bit.

So, since Friday afternoon, we’ve had a goat kid living in an old laundry basket in our family room. How our children thought up the name, “Piglet,” I’ll never know…but it’s not something I have any desire to argue about. The wood stove keeps that whole room very comfortable, and Piglet has been thriving. Homeschooled Farm Girl has been a big help in milking Queen Anne’s Lace, and in taking the kid out to her in the warmer parts of the day to nurse directly. Fortunately, Queen Anne’s Lace has not rejected or forgotten him; she bleats urgently as soon as she sees him, sniffs his backside approvingly as he nurses, and bleats plaintively when we take him back out of the barn.

Needless to say, the laundry basket is pretty tight quarters for a growing goat kid. With MYF’s permission, our children let him out a couple of times this weekend (right after he’d relieved himself), and let him romp around the downstairs of our house. Everyone thought this was great fun, though MYF was of course concerned he might try to piddle on the carpet. “Maybe,” I joked, “we can train him to a litter box and keep him in the house.”

“Yeah!” the children cheered.
“Can’t you just see it?” MYF replied. “Him trotting up and down the stairs. Kicking his legs up on the walls, like the other goats do in the barn. Probably smashing windows. And making the whole house smell like goat.”

We all had a good laugh…and hope he’ll be well enough to move back to the barn in the next couple of days.

And, yes, I have eaten my full serving of crow. I’m glad MYF took him to the vet, and have told her so. It’s a tough balance, having livestock. There is a definite “utilitarian” component to farm animals, and it’s much more pronounced than it is for pets. We simply cannot justify squandering resources on an animal that isn’t “worth it.” But there is also a humanitarian component to raising livestock on a small organic farm. In a sense, God has given us temporary custody of these animals…and we have a responsibility to exercise good stewardship with them. That means having a heart, and sometimes making personal sacrifices on behalf of an animal’s welfare — even one which, at the end of the day, might be of borderline monetary value.

In this case, I think we struck a good balance. Piglet’s vet bill was $55, and it will eventually cost $40 to butcher him. That will make his meat more than twice as expensive as the meat from a kid with no medical issues. But given the quality of what we’ll be getting, I think it’s still a bargain compared to buying meat at the supermarket.

Ultimate Security Flashlight

Too bad the FMG9 is still just a prototype, because I really want one of these. And am not sure I’d want to go out and walk my dog at night in an urban area without one handy. Heck, even on the farm, one of these would make it infinitely easier to go investigate what the dog was barking his head off at in the middle of the night.

This brief video really must be seen to be believed:

H/T: Baseball Crank

Rod Dreher on NAIS and Food Safety

Rod Dreher has an excellent column out with more thoughts about the NAIS (discussed here in a recent post), and some of the other dubious “food safety” legislation working its way through Congress.

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 attempts to streamline the unwieldy federal food regulation system, as does the similar Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009. Both, however, are written as a “one size fits all” bill that would ramp up fees and regulation on all producers of food (and, in the case of the latter, drugs and cosmetics). The little guy who sells homegrown tomatoes or homemade soap at the farmers market would be subject to the same regulation as industrial giants, without the resources to implement it.

“There are legitimate problems that the large commercial producers – the peanut factory that ships around the country – those need to be better regulated,” said Judith McGeary, an Austin lawyer and board member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. “What we need is a very explicit, unambiguous, clear and broad exemption for small farmers and small producers – people who are making jams and breads for the local farmers market.”

Those exemptions aren’t in the current legislation. On the NAIS front, a House subcommittee hearing this month was “a disaster” for the local food movement, McGeary said. In the Texas Legislature, proposals to make NAIS voluntary at the state level, absent a federal mandate, are going nowhere.

[snip]

Ironically, the food safety problems that cause such legitimate public concern are caused by large-scale, technology-driven industrial food production and distribution methods – precisely the sort of thing that local, sustainable farmers don’t engage in. Yet they are the ones who will suffer the most from these government attempts to solve a problem caused by bigness and technology by imposing more bigness and technology.

We do need better food safety regulation of major producers, but local family farms and artisans shouldn’t pay for sins they didn’t commit. Consumers need to have the small-farm alternative – and if they are going to preserve it, they have to contact federal and state legislators now.

AIG Mess

With every member of Congress now posturing and trying to outdo one another in expressing outrage over retention bonuses paid to AIG executives, it didn’t surprise me to receive an email tonight from Senator Debbie Stabenow. I guess I got on her mailing list last fall, when I wrote asking her to oppose the $800 billion financial bailout (which she did, and for which I give her enormous credit).

Anyway, this is the text of the message she sent tonight:

This morning, Senator Stabenow went to the Senate floor to speak about the outrageous bonuses being lavished on employees at AIG. She spoke about the outrageous double standard between Wall Street and America’s automakers, who have submitted their management plans to the auto task force and are renegotiating contracts with their workers, who have already taken cuts. Our families are struggling, and those who got us into this mess should not be rewarded for their failure.

Here is the link to Senator Stabenow’s speech:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Td2ya5z1Y8

I do agree with the Senator that those who got us into this mess should not be rewarded for their failure — and, as I said above, I credit Senator Stabenow for opposing the original TARP legislation, out of whose funds AIG was bailed out. That said, this was my reply to Senator Stabenow:

Didn’t you vote for the “stimulus” bill which included an amendment explicitly protecting these bonuses? I’m assuming you were not aware of that amendment, given the short amount of time available to review the conference report. But had you been aware of that amendment, would you have voted differently on the bill?

Naturally, every member of Congress will now purport to oppose that provision. But just how much do they really mean what they say? Given that the amendment was indeed part of the final stimulus bill, do they oppose the bonuses enough to have voted against the stimulus?

My larger question, directed at the Senator’s colleagues (including the current President), who did vote for TARP and are now expressing outrage, is this: If you really wanted fundamental change in the way these financial institutions do business, including the way they compensate their employees who “got us into this mess,” shouldn’t you have let those institutions fail and be liquidated? Or at least written your mandated compensation changes in to the original bailout agreement? By continuing to prop them up with $173 billion of no-strings-attached taxpayer dollars, why are you surprised that they continue to operate their business as they have in the past?

Personally, I’m more outraged by the $173 billion that was “loaned” or otherwise entrusted to this failed monstrosity than I am by the way that company spent $165 million compensating the employees which the government’s bailout package enabled them to retain.

More than Just Bloat

After last night’s adventure saving Queen Anne’s Lace the Goat from bloat (detailed in a post this morning), it turns out that my suspicions about her engorged udder were correct: she was more than just bloated. She was also majorly pregnant!

I checked on her at lunchtime, and she was in active labor; the first kid’s amniotic sac, with fluid, was hanging out of her rear end. I ran to the house, and the children quickly came out to watch. Homeschooled Farm Girl cleared other goats out of the barn, and then helped me move QAL to the kidding pen. This took some real effort, as we had to time the move to fall between QAL’s increasingly-intense contractions.

Fortunately, we got her secured in time. Homeschooled Farm Girl and Little Brother made themselves comfortable, and we all settled in to watch. A hoof was clearly protruding and visible, and the kid’s head emerged next. Progress then slowed down; QAL struggled and pushed for several minutes, but not much more of the kid came out. HFG fretted that perhaps QAL needed help. My own private worries aside, I assured her that everything looked fine, and we just needed to leave QAL alone.

Sure enough, a few hearty pushes later, the kid emerged the rest of the way. QAL turned around and began licking it off. She looked to have another kid inside her, and we dcould have stayed to watch — but at this point I figured that what the goat needed most was some privacy so she could bond with Kid #1 and ready herself to deliver Kid #2. So, I told our children we needed to head back into the house and return to the books. But I think that the most valuable homeschooling lesson of the day had already taken place, right there in the barn.

I went back out about an hour later; both goat kids had been safely delivered, licked off, and were on their feet learning to nurse. We appear to have one male and one female.

And with three does now having delivered in the last month, we’re about to have a whole bunch of delicious goat milk.

Late Night…With Queen Anne’s Lace

We have three dairy goat does: Queen Anne’s Lace (our original doe, bred and drying up but not currently being milked) and her two daughters, both of whom recently had twin kids. Those two daughters, Button and Marigold, get a ration of supplemental grain in the morning and evening; this helps them keep their milk production up, ensuring their hungry kids get as much as they need.

In the mornings, I scoop that grain into a pan and set it in an empty stall in the barn. At the sound of the grain hitting the pan, Button and Marigold eagerly stand on the gate and look to see what’s taking me so long. Scooter the Border Collie also knows the routine, and plants himself just outside their gate. Once I open the gate, Scooter’s position blocks the goats from going anywhere but toward the empty stall with the grain. (Not like they need any help from Scooter — both goats make a beeline for that grain even when he’s not with me.)

I then re-latch the gate, and get hay for the sheep while the goats eat their grain. By the time I return from the sheep pen, the two goats are finished and ready to be let back in to the main goat area. Once they’re back in, I secure the gate behind them.

Homeschooled Farm Girl takes care of this chore in the evenings, and it usually goes off without a hitch…except when it doesn’t. Last night, she apparently didn’t get the gate secured all the way. While we were inside eating dinner, and then spending a little time watching something on the History Channel, the goats managed to get their gate open and disperse themselves all over the barn. Queen Anne’s Lace (QAL), being the largest, oldest, and smartest doe, knew that a couple of swift head-butts to the grain can would manage to tip it over — and she wasted no time settling in for a feast.

Homeschooled Farm Boy didn’t discover this disaster until he stopped by the barn to turn the lights off for the night. With Scooter’s help, he managed to get all the goats back in their pen…but he was concerned about the amount of grain that QAL had ingested. If a goat eats too much grain all at once, they can develop a terrible (even fatal) case of bloat. He had me come out and take a look at her, but not much time had elapsed yet. QAL still looked fine. But as Mrs Yeoman Farmer was concerned she might still develop bloat, I agreed to check back a little later.

Back out in the barn at 11pm, it was unmistakable: we had a terribly bloated goat. Remember those old Alka-Seltzer commercials, where the person blows up like a balloon and moans, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing“? That was the look that QAL was giving me.

MYF swung into action, getting out one of her natural goat care books and reviewing the instructions for dealing with bloat. We put a half cup of olive oil into a jar, got out a new 30cc syringe (with no needle), and together headed to the barn. Somehow, with MYF straddling QAL to hold her in place (and shoo away all the other goats, who were terribly curious and wanting to get in on the action), I managed to drench all of the olive oil down the goat’s throat. Then came the really fun part: trying to get QAL to run around outside, and heavily massaging her bloated belly every time she stopped. Given her bloated state, running around seemed the last thing on her mind — and goats can be very stubborn when they make up their minds about something. Even Scooter wasn’t much help in getting her to move.

We managed to get QAL to belch a few times, but weren’t making too much progress. MYF sent me in the house for another half cup of olive oil, which we again drenched down the goat’s throat. More belly massage. More trying to get her to run.

At least it was a really nice night to be out — clear sky, huge canopy of stars, and comfortably warm (hey, after the winter we had, 50F feels sweltering). As we worked with the goat, alternating between running and massaging and listening for belching, MYF and I found ourselves having a fun time joking and chatting and getting caught up on what’s been going on.

Finally, at midnight, we figured we’d gotten all the gas out of QAL that we were going to get out. We returned her and Scooter to the barn, double-checked that the goat gate was secure, turned out the lights, and called it a night. Back at the house, I fell into bed and went right to sleep.

This morning, before doing anything else, I headed straight to the barn to check on QAL. She looked a bit tired, and still a little on the large side, but no longer bloated. Her udder and teats looked fairly full of milk; that could be an effect of the grain, and I’m hoping it doesn’t mean she’s about to deliver her kids. But I may have our children put her in the stanchion and see if they can milk her out today.

There’s never a dull moment on a farm. Even when you might really, really want one. Like at 11pm on St Patrick’s Day.

But we still wouldn’t trade this life for anything.