Mother and Goat Kid Reunion

After the frustration of last night’s disappearance of a young goat kid, we are celebrating this evening! All of the searching yesterday yielded nothing, and we figured he must’ve been picked off by a fox. We closed up the barn, and hoped for the best.

Our hopes were even dimmer this morning, when he failed to wander home overnight. The Yeoman Farm Children made the best of the situation by milking the mother goat, Button, all the way out. And we did get quite a bit of milk, even if it was bittersweet.

Then, imagine our surprise — and joy — when we returned today from Mass and an afternoon visiting friends to discover…he’d returned! We’re not sure what high weeds he spent the night under, or how he found Button, or when. But it was clear he had: her teats were empty, and he seemed none the worse for the experience.

We immediately escorted both of them to the barn, where they can have some one-on-one time…and we can be sure he won’t get lost again before tonight’s sunset.

Thanks very much to all of you who offered prayers for his safe return.

Kid AWOL

We had a goat kid born about a week or two ago, and he’d been doing fine. Kept up with the rest of the herd, and was thriving. Then suddenly, tonight, when the herd came back in from pasture for milking…there was no sign of the kid. I’d seen him earlier this afternoon; he’d squeezed through a gate and gotten into the sheep pasture, so I’d picked him up and reunited him with his bleating mother goat.

But now…he’s nowhere to be found. I’ve looked all over the sheep pasture. The Yeoman Farm Children took the bleating mother goat (who’s even more anxious than we are) on a full tour of the goat pasture and woods, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes the whole way. No sign of him. No responding bleats. Problem is, the weeds out there are quite high. If he’s bedded down and curled up, he could be ANYWHERE and we’d literally have to step on him before we found him.

The YFCs are now very upset, as can be imagined. But I told them how pleased I am with their heroic efforts trying to find the lost kid. It’s hasn’t helped their spirits much. It doesn’t help that it’s now 8:40pm and they now have two goats to milk all the way out, and dinner’s been pushed back.

If you’re inclined to do so, we would welcome any prayers you might offer tonight. For the goat kid and our own kids. The sun is going down, and with it our chances of finding the goat this evening. I’m inclined to think a marauding fox carried him off; we’ve spotted them in broad daylight around here before. But we’re still holding out hope that he’ll resurface. Alive and well.

Our Great Goose Group

Our property seems ideally suited for geese. Lots of grassy pasture, with a big low wet area that’s fairly swampy even all summer. I’m glad we got lots of extra goslings this year, because with this much grass they’re basically free to feed once they’re out of the brooder. A goose is a nice-sized meal for our family, yielding all the meat everyone wants, plus leftovers. And there’s nothing as delightful as the “goose grease” that melts off a roasted bird. We save it in quart mason jars in the fridge.

We had 14 goslings out there for a long time, plus one little hatchling, and the four mature geese. They’re a mixed bag of Toulouse and Embden. We lock them in the barn with the sheep and chickens at night. Then, a few nights ago, we had a bizarre incident: one of the juvenile goslings got his/her long neck tangled all up in some of the barn’s interior fencing. I discovered this when I came out to lock up for the night. Much like what happened with our dairy goat, Marigold, the bird got so wrapped  it ended up committing suicide. The goose’s body was still warm, so he/she couldn’t have been dead long. But I couldn’t revive it. A tragic and completely unforseeable waste, but the kind of thing that a stupid animal can do.

So, we have 13 remaining juveniles, and the little hatchling, and the four mature adults…and they make quite a group. Really remarkable how they’ve bonded as a unit. There’s a mature Embden gander who’s definitely the Alpha. There’s one mature Toulouse who’s the “mother” to the little gosling and makes sure he/she keeps up. Especially interesting is that when I or one of the dogs comes out and approaches the group, she positions herself in such a way that the little one is very hard to see. Even as they’re running, the shape of her body often makes the little one disappear. That’s good for him/her, but tough for me to keep track of. In the photo below, note the mother has positioned herself between me and the gosling, as the gaggle hurries toward the pasture.

They’re all so entertaining as they work the pasture, we could watch them and their interactions for hours.

But as the juveniles are maturing, we have a new concern: telling them apart from the mature adults. This is important, because older geese are not good to eat. The meat is tough as shoe leather, so our preference is to let them live out their lives once they’re more than a year old. We intend to butcher all of the juveniles this November/December, so we need to be able to identify them. Many are now almost as big as the adults, and fully feathered. Before they get any more mature, I needed to mark certain members of the gaggle.

The solution: I caught the four mature adults, one at a time, and put a heavy duty “rip tie” (or “zip” tie, or “cable” tie, or whatever you prefer calling it) around each leg, just above the knee. I left it just loose enough for more leg growth, but tight enough not to slip off. (I did both legs so we’d have a backup in case one came off.) I then trimmed the excess plastic.

Scooter had a grand time helping me chase particular geese down in the pasture. And he was indeed a big help. Border Collies are indispinsible when you have livestock. His instincts and abilities never fail to blow me away, especially since he’s had no training.

Hopefully all the rip ties will hold, and we’ll be able to keep these four mature adults to raise another gaggle of goslings next year. And enjoy lots of delicious roast goose this winter.

Turkey Come Home

We have an unusually large number of young turkeys this year. Long story, but it boils down to two things:

1) The hatchery we’d ordered from later told us the turkeys might be greatly delayed. I placed a second order with another — more reliable, but also more expensive — hatchery, to make sure we got the minimal number of heritage breed poults we need. My intention was to cancel the order with the original hatchery, once we were certain we had a good survival rate in the brooder. We ended up getting both orders coming thru a few weeks later, before I could cancel the original one, for a total of 35 poults shipping to our property.

2) We had far fewer brooder deaths than usual. I think that’s because we got the poults in later May, when the weather was warmer and the birds were less stressed in transit.

Anyway, we now have all the poults out in two portable 4×8 pasture pens. They’re thriving, with fresh air and fresh green stuff in their diet each day (along with some supplemental high protein grain ration).

And then, this afternoon, we ran into a problem. I opened the lid of one pen, to give the birds some grain. Two poults got spooked, and flew through the open top to perch on the lid. One small bird was easy to capture and replace. The other, a largish Bourbon Red (an older bird, from the McMurray order), flew away. He went over the fence to the garden, requiring me to walk all the way around to the gate to reach him. By the time I got there, and had him pinned against the fence, he spooked again. Big time. Somehow clawed his way up and over the fence…and flew off INTO THE HIGH BRUSH separating our property from the road.

The young bird was now in a 20 foot wide patch of 3-4 foot high grass and brambles and branches that runs the length of our property. I came in after him, but he easily evaded me in the weeds. Meanwhile, I’m stirring up clouds of dormant mosquitoes and running into big patches of poison ivy and nettles. Was about to give up on him, when I had an idea: go out to the road, and work my way back in. I had no idea where the bird was, but fortunately stumbled onto him before long. He ran farther into the weeds. I almost got him…and then he squirted away and disappeared, leaving me to contend with another cloud of mosquitoes. Try as I might, I could not find him again.

I’d hoped the chirping calls of the other turkeys — the ones still in the pen — would eventually draw him back. But I kept checking all evening, but he never did reemerge. Finally, when the sun was all the way down, I went back out with a flashlight…still no Bourbon Red poult. Hopefully he’ll be there in the morning, but I’m not counting on it. He’ll probably get eaten by a raccoon or fox.

This is one of those maddening, never-saw-it-coming disappointments of farming. Yes, we still have plenty of other turkeys. But, dang it, we raised this one and he was thriving and this is such a stupid way to lose him.

And then, as I thought more about it, something came to me: how often do we humans act like that turkey? We have a good situation going, we’re being taken care of, we’re living according to the Plan that a higher power has in mind for us…and then in a moment of passion we [literally, in this case] fly the coop, determine that we know better what the Plan should be, strike off in a radical direction of our own…and then, very quickly, discover that we’re lost in the high weeds with no simple way out. Because we blew it, and squandered the situation we had. And are too stubborn or proud or blinded to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd who is calling and begging for us to come out and return to the safety of the fold.

Don’t mean to get too overly philosophical, but these are the sorts of thoughts a person can have when living on a farm. You really do develop a greater appreciation for the agricultural parables of the Bible. And quickly come to understand why the Bible has so many of them.

UPDATE:
I went out to do the chores at 6:30 the next morning (Monday), accompanied by Scooter the Border Collie. As I was putting feed in one of the turkey pens, Scooter flushed the runaway turkey poult from the grass next to the pen. It’d apparently heard the other turkeys chirping, and come back from the high weeds/brush to rejoin them at first light. Anyway, Scooter chased the bird down and excitedly held it with his paws until I could come and grab it. It was damp from being out in the morning dew, but otherwise no worse for its night spent outside the pen. I’m just thankful it’s back.

Waiting is Over!

Yesterday, we were watching and waiting for Bianca to deliver her lambs. We continued keeping a close eye on her, but nothing happened overnight or this morning. Then, I got home this afternoon from running errands and checked for her in the barn. It was a warm day, and most of the flock was inside panting from the heat. But there was no sign of Bianca. A quick scan of the pasture revealed no sign of her, either.

I set off across the pasture and through the swampy area at the far end of it, and climbed the ridge that rises to our property line. Sure enough, in the most sheltered and out-of-the-way place she could find, she’d made her delivery. Two beautiful white lambs! Both had been licked almost completely dry, and seemed healthy. One male, one female. Interestingly, the female is significantly larger than the male. I think the female is going to be a keeper, to replace Nera.

Anyway, the problem was getting Bianca and the two lambs all the way to the barn. I solved it by picking up one lamb in each arm, and setting off along the path that runs the top of the ridge. Bianca followed close behind, sometimes even brushing and bumping into me, bellowing one “Meaaah!” after another. I kept up a running conversation with her as we continued walking. Finally, when we got back to the barn, I set both lambs down and she rushed to “claim” them. I got out of the way, stood back, and watched until I’d seen both of them nurse.

Here are the two of them, running to be with her in the paddock behind the barn:

And the three of them, with Conundrum (another of our mature ewes).
June lambing is on the late side; this is among the latest deliveries we’ve ever had (Bianca holds our record, with an August 4 delivery one year). But it’s nice not having to worry about freezing weather. Hopefully with temps in the 80s today these two new arrivals will be getting off to a strong start.

Waiting and Watching

After last month’s lambing disaster, we’ve been mulling lessons learned and thinking about what we can do differently going forward.

The biggest, as I’ve noted in comments sections, is not to fear assisting with a delivery. We’ve had so many lambs born so easily, and read in so many different places that Icelandics are known for their easy lambings, I’d internalized an attitude something like the following:

The ewe knows what she’s doing better than I do. Her lambs may start out tangled, but they work it out. Don’t interfere. I’d only make it worse. I’d hurt her, or the lambs, if I try reaching in there and forcing something that nature isn’t ready to have happen yet.

I realize this attitude sounds laughable, particularly after losing Nera last month. But it’s really not much different from the attitude a person might develop if he has “puncture resistant” tires on his car, and drove tens of thousands of miles across all kinds of road hazards without ever getting a flat. Particularly if the driver had never been shown the proper way to change a flat tire, and feared damaging his car if he began wielding a lug wrench and jack willy-nilly. It might be easy to convince oneself that that thump-thump-thump noise isn’t really a flat tire. Because, you know, I have puncture-resistant tires! I’ve never had a flat before! And besides, even if I did, I’d probably ruin the wheel if I tried to change it. And I can’t call AAA, because I’m in the middle of nowhere [our situation regarding veterinarians]. So I guess I should keep driving and hope I reach my destination.

So, after one’s tire shreds to rubber bits, and the wheel grinds to a halt in a sea of sparks…a person might get some lessons in how to recognize a flat tire and how to change one. Which is what we’ve done regarding lambing. I exchanged a number of long emails with our breeder, and she graciously shared a raft of her own lambing horror stores with me. More importantly, she also shared tips for recognizing a bad lambing (the ewe is in active labor for more than an hour without delivering a lamb) and for intervening. My big take-away: don’t fear reaching inside and doing everything possible to wrestle a lamb out. If you wait too long, the lamb will die in the birth canal from stress and oxygen deprivation anyway. And if the lamb isn’t freed, the ewe will certainly die. My attempts at intervention, no matter how clumsy, cannot hurt her more than that.

The rubber began hitting the road last night. We have one more ewe we expect to deliver, Bianca. She was among the very first born to us, and I have a special connection with her. As a lamb, she sustained an injury to her foot and wasn’t getting up to graze. The vet treated her foot, but didn’t expect her to recover; she was having too much trouble standing and grazing or nursing, and just wanted to lay around wasting away. As she was one of our only lambs, and one of our first females, and we were desperate to build our flock, I picked up the gauntlet and trooped out to the pasture several times a day to work with her. Slowly, she made her recovery. She’s been a healthy and productive sheep ever since, and has gone on to provide us with ten lambs.

She got bred very late this year, and we even wondered at one point if she’d been bred at all. But lately she’s definitely been showing signs of it, so I’ve been watching her closely. Then, last night, it was unmistakable: her udder was engorged with milk. She wasn’t in labor yet, but I left the lights on in the barn at bedtime. At midnight, I couldn’t stop thinking about her…so I got dressed and went back out to check. Still engorged, still looking uncomfortable, but still not in labor. My first stop this morning was the sheep area…same story. I’ve been watching her out in the pasture today, making sure she doesn’t spend too much time in places where lambing would be problematic.

No lambs yet. But hopefully we’ll have some happy arrivals soon. And I won’t hesitate to intervene if needed.

Home To Roost

You know the expression about the “chickens coming home to roost”? It’s really true. As evening approaches, chickens begin heading back toward their enclosure. And given the opportunity, they prefer to spend the night elevated off the ground. They’ll roost on pretty much anything…and we’ve seen some fairly bizarre choices (particularly rafters, and other unlikely areas we never would’ve thought a chicken could reach).

But tonight takes the cake. I went out to the barn to turn off the lights and secure the doors…and had to do a double-take when I spotted those two hens who’ve been co-brooding eleven chicks between them. Both hens, and all eleven chicks (who are now fully feathered and getting to be a pretty good size) had encamped four feet off the ground, on the narrow edge of a single roll of fencing material we’d stacked against a wall. Here is a close-up:

And here is a wider shot, showing more of the height:

How they decided on this spot, and how they arranged themselves, I’ll never know. But it kind of reminds me of a phone booth stuffing contest…