Like Mother, Like Daughter

Earlier today, our ewe Enigma (among the first of the lambs ever born to us, back in 2003) delivered two beautiful lambs. Then, when I went out to do the evening chores, I discovered…her daughter, Conundrum, had just done the same!

Interestingly, just like Mom, Conundrum also had one male and one female.

Both were up and nursing well.

The sheep pen is getting crowded. It’s quite amusing watching the five different mother ewes run around nickering at their lambs, while the lambs all frolic with each other. Know that line from the Bible about the sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice? They know their mother’s voice even better.

Still Lambing 200%

Our fourth ewe delivered this afternoon, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather: sunny, very little wind, and temps in the mid-fifties.

Enigma brought us some beautiful twins, one male and one female (on the left and the right, respectively, in this photo). They were already up and nursing when I found them a moment ago.

That’s a total of eight lambs thus far (all of which are very healthy), with five ewes remaining to deliver.

Three For Three!

Yesterday evening, for the third day in a row, we had another set of twin lambs born. The mother ewe is Pachelbelle, daughter of Maybelle. (Long story, but all females in that line have names that end in -belle. It was something Maybelle’s breeder had done, and we agreed to keep the tradition going.)

After some initial confusion yesterday, we cleared things up: both lambs are male. That makes a total of six little ram lambs born in three days. Wow! We’re looking forward to lots of good eating next winter.

Maybelle Delivers Again

Although she missed by a single day being the first ewe to deliver this year, Maybelle again comes through with a key delivery: beautiful twin male lambs. Her overall record of 200% remains unbroken. She has given us twins every single year of her breeding life, and they’ve always grown to a nice size (except the first year, when we didn’t know what we were doing, and both lambs died hours after being born).

Homeschooled Farm Girl and Little Big Brother had a break from school and watched the first lamb emerge. I don’t know about you, but I would’ve killed for an opportunity to spend my recess doing that when I was in grade school.

Meanwhile, Licorice’s twin males born yesterday are also doing very well. We’re thankful the nice weather is holding on into the weekend; it sure beats trying to keep these little guys warm in freezing temperatures.

Easter Comes Early

At least…the colored eggs have come early. These are all completely natural colors, by the way, and represent the variety of what we collected over the last day and a half:

The huge white egg is from a goose. The brown eggs are from our chickens. All the rest — in their varrying shades of green and gray and black — are from our Cayuga ducks. The coloring is a sort of fine film, and can be washed off if you rub it enough. But we think the colors are fun, and don’t do more than wash off the dirt from the barn.

How else can you have green eggs and ham?


Our Alpha rooster, Sardine, (don’t ask…Little Big Brother came up with the name years ago) was sadly deposed from his position in the Pecking Order a few days ago. It may have been something about spring, but another rooster got it in his head that he was going to make a run at the big guy. A couple of days of cockfights ensued, and I assumed that Sardine would prevail.

A couple of other evenings later, however, Sardine was huddled outside the main chicken area. His comb and face were terribly bloodied, but he still had both eyes and was alive. Here’s what the comb looks like today:

Every time I tried putting him back with the other chickens, he ended up back outside…aparently seeking a safe haven. He’s been roosting in another part of the barn ever since. I’m guessing he’s trying to regroup.

Now, he’s been spending his days “out standing in the field.” All by himself, out in the huge sheep pasture. Kind of sad. But he’s still an extremely beautiful rooster…and I wouldn’t write him off just yet.

Two Records Smashed!

We had two personal farm records broken today:

1) The earliest lambs ever born to us; and

2) Maybelle didn’t deliver them. Licorice did.

Our breed of sheep, Icelandics, only come into heat during the cool months of the fall. They have a roughly five month gestation, so that means lambs are only born in the spring. Commercial meat breeds have been developed to come into season at all different times of the year, which allows commercial lamb to come to market all year. We prefer our heritage breed, which follows the natural flow of the seasons. Anyway, I suspect we got an early lambing this year because last fall was so unusually cool. They must’ve come into heat early. And judging from the enormous size of several of our other ewes, the rest of the spring lamb crop won’t take long to get here.

Maybelle has always been our first to lamb, but she’s never delivered before the last few days of March. Most of our lambs are usually born in April. I just hope we don’t get another nasty cold snap right in the middle of the other lambs’ arrivals.

Couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day for a lambing today. 55 degrees and sunny. It won’t last, but we’re sure enjoying it while its here.

For the record, both lambs born today are males. They’re doing great — up quickly, getting licked off, and one was already trying to nurse. Licorice has been known to triplet; if she does have another surprise for us later, I’ll update this post.

One ewe down. Eight more to go.

Meet the Orphan Twins

After last night’s terrible events, we’re left with twin orphan goat kids that must be cared for. They are barely two weeks old, and were fortunately in very good health at the time their mother died. Unfortunately, neither one of them was able to figure out how to drink from a bottle yesterday. They were clearly hungry, but when the nipple was put in their mouths they just tried to chew on it. We got barely three ounces into them at the time we discovered their mother was dead (early evening), and kids this age need about a quart of milk each per day just to survive.

Late last night, Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I went out to give it another try. They still wouldn’t feed from the bottle, so MYF got an idea: let’s try pouring some milk into a bowl. That proved to be the ticket. Kids this age supposedly can’t be trained to drink from a bowl (supposedly, only newborns can), but these two went right at it. MYF held the bowl about a foot off the ground, and I guided the female kid’s head into it. After a couple of tentitive laps, she started sucking the milk down with gusto. Ditto for her twin brother. By the time we refilled the bowl, we didn’t need to guide either kid — both of them started sucking down milk at the same time.

We just got back from feeding them again this morning; we’ll need to do this three times a day until they’re three weeks old…at which time we can cut back to twice a day. They both went right at it again, and we decided for the next feeding we’ll just leave the milk in the large pan after we warm it up. Between the two of them, they took nearly a quart this morning. Which is great, but we’re only getting three quarts a day total from the other two goats we’re milking. If we’re going to keep any for the Yeoman Farm Children (which is, after all, the whole point of having dairy goats), we’re going to need to buy some goat milk replacer soon. For now, though, we’re glad we’re getting so much milk into these kids while they’re still healthy and strong. Once they start going downhill and get weakened, it’s really hard to bring them back.

Here’s the female:

And her brother:

We hadn’t planned on keeping this female (most of Marigold’s other kids have been lousy), but it now looks like we’ll need her as a replacement milker. So…we need a name. Soon. We’re open to suggestions, but it needs to be based on a flower.

Awful. Just Awful

There’s no other word to describe what we just found in the goat barn. Went out to do the evening chores, and was taking hay to the goats, when I discovered one of our best milkers was dead. She had twins who were both thriving (but are so little, they’re now going to need to be bottle-fed)…this kind of tragedy of course never happens to the goats whose kids die early. Only to the ones with kids that’ll need to be bottle-fed.

The goat’s name was Marigold. She was among the first goats born to us, when we first got into this, and she moved with us in the “Noah’s Ark on Wheels” from Illinois.

Here is what seems to have happened: she was in the kidding pen with her kids (like I said, they’re still quite young), and she stuck her head through the cattle panel that separates the kidding pen from the “general population” goat area. Not sure if she was after more hay, or what. But here’s the thing: she did NOT get her horns stuck in the fence. She wedged a horizonal piece of the cattle panel against her throat, and then somehow managed to tuck the end of her muzzle back into in a square of the metal panel that was below the one up against her throat. She suffocated to death. Not sure if that makes sense, but I was too sickened by the scene to take a picture that would clarify it. And the whole thing took us a while to figure out, ourselves. The worst part is it made no sense, why she would tuck her muzzle back through the fence. She was wedged so tightly, I had to use bolt cutters to cut the panel. It’d be one thing if she’d caught her horns. This is totally senseless.

When I cut her free and her body collapsed on the floor, all the dead air that’d been trapped in her lungs came out. It was one of the most horrible things I’ve ever smelled.

She’d been dead for awhile, and I’m kicking myself for not having checked on the goats more today. But I got busy with work…and all kinds of other things. Maybe if I’d gone more often to give them hay? Maybe if…maybe if…maybe if.

Such is farm life. Great joys. Great sorrows. Great miracles. Great tragedies.

I’m sorry, but I’m just too upset to write any more about this.

Wither Detroit?

A theme we’ve discussed on this blog before, restoring swaths of Detroit to farmland, is resurfacing in the news again.

Detroit, the very symbol of American industrial might for most of the 20th century, is drawing up a radical renewal plan that calls for turning large swaths of this now-blighted, rusted-out city back into the fields and farmland that existed before the automobile.

Operating on a scale never before attempted in this country, the city would demolish houses in some of the most desolate sections of Detroit and move residents into stronger neighborhoods. Roughly a quarter of the 139-square-mile city could go from urban to semi-rural.

Near downtown, fruit trees and vegetable farms would replace neighborhoods that are an eerie landscape of empty buildings and vacant lots. Suburban commuters heading into the city center might pass through what looks like the countryside to get there. Surviving neighborhoods in the birthplace of the auto industry would become pockets in expanses of green.

Detroit officials first raised the idea in the 1990s, when blight was spreading. Now, with the recession plunging the city deeper into ruin, a decision on how to move forward is approaching. Mayor Dave Bing, who took office last year, is expected to unveil some details in his state-of-the-city address this month.

“Things that were unthinkable are now becoming thinkable,” said James W. Hughes, dean of the School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, who is among the urban experts watching the experiment with interest. “There is now a realization that past glories are never going to be recaptured. Some people probably don’t accept that, but that is the reality.

I intended to discuss this subject more last fall, after putting up my initial post. However, very soon after that post, our family found itself in the frenzy of final preparations for Yeoman Farm Baby’s birth and adoption. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I did discuss the “farm Detroit” idea back then, after my post (and I received insightful emails from some readers), and came to an unfortunate conclusion: as attractive (even romantic) as returning Detroit to farmland sounds, there are some extremely big problems with it in practice. Number one, which is prohibitive for us, is even bigger than the threat of losing livestock to drive-by shootings: it’s the condition of the urban soil. Quite simply, we can’t know everything that’s accumulated in the Detroit soil over the last hundred years — but you can bet that most of it isn’t good, and most of it goes very deep.

Think of all the automotive emissions (including from leaded gasoline), industrial pollutants, spilled heating oil, runoff from parking lots and building roofs … and that’s just a start. Any forages you plant for livestock grazing, or vegetables you grow for human consumption, will likely draw all kinds of nasty stuff up through their roots. And this can’t be remedied by adding new layer of top soil; nearly every kind of plant that farmers grow sends roots many feet into the ground. Or does someone out there know a way to do urban soil remediation without spending a fortune?

So…what could a farmer do with Detroit soil? Maybe plant a Christmas tree farm, as one reader suggested. It’s hard to think of any other crop that would be purely decorative. One might be able to plant trees for firewood, but even then I wonder what would be released into the air when one burns those trees.
Any other suggestions?