Easter Sunday Surprise

Hope all of you had as nice of an Easter as our family did. We enjoyed spectacular 68-degree weather over at my father in law’s house; Homeschooled Farm Girl and I took full advantage of it and got out on our bikes for a 26-mile ride. Most of all, we had a great time hanging out with family and soaking in the sunshine.

We got home around 7:30pm or so, and I went more or less straight to the barn. Several of our sheep have been looking painfully pregnant and wanting to deliver, as was one of our goats. There were still no lambs, but the goat (Thistle) was lying down like she was in labor. She wasn’t yet actively pushing, so I did the rest of my chores and made a mental note to check her again later.

“Later” didn’t take long. After about 30 minutes of trying to relax with an NCAA tournament basketball game, I was interrupted with news from HFG: Thistle had the head of a goat kid sticking out of her, and the delivery wasn’t making any progress.

I hustled to the barn. HFG and I took a closer look at Thistle’s rear end, and quickly discovered the problem. In a normal delivery, the kid’s forefeet come out with the head. This kid’s little hooves were nowhere to be found. It was just his head. I tried gently tugging on his head, but he was clearly stuck. With his feet not leading the way, his shoulders were too big to make it into the birth canal. Fortunately, the kid was moving his head, so we knew he was still alive.

There’s only one way to fix this problem: reach in and find his front feet. I rolled up my sleeve, slipped my hand into the birth canal, and worked my way down the kid’s chest. Thistle was extremely unhappy, but I told her she could thank me later. Finally, I found what I was feeling around for: a leg. I pulled it up, and worked the hoof into the birth canal with the head. Then I put my hand back in and did the same with his other leg. HFG and I tugged on this package of head-and-feet, and an instant later the whole kid was out. While I was at it, I pulled the afterbirth out as well.

Thankfully, the kid was alive. I put him near Thistle’s head, but she wasn’t interested in licking him off. Way too tired. HFG and I took him in the house, and washed off all the barn gunk (and slimy amniotic residue) that we could. He was still kind of slimy, but reasonably clean. I wrapped him up in a raggedy old bath towel, and started drying him off.

We took him out to my office building, still wrapped in the towel. As we watched more NCAA basketball, I continued drying him off. He was pretty tired, but seemed healthy. No broken or twisted limbs. Good size. Responsive.

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The yellowish amniotic gunk was proving to be pretty stubborn, and wouldn’t come off with a simple toweling. Normally, the mother goat would do this job. Figuring that “a tongue is a tongue,” I set him down on my office floor to see what the dogs would do. Floyd, the border collie, immediately sprang into action (the livestock care / herding instincts these dogs have is unbelievable). Floyd began licking the little kid all over. Aggressively. From every angle.

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After a while, I was able to stand the kid up. His legs were steady enough so he could remain standing for Floyd’s clean-job:

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Floyd was especially interested in getting at the bloody umbilical cord stump:

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While Floyd continued working, HFG and I went back to the barn to check on Thistle. She hadn’t gotten up, so we helped her to her feet. She stood just fine, but didn’t seem interested in walking around or eating. I brought a bucket of clean water to her. She drank some, but not much. From her size and lethargy, it was pretty clear there was another goat kid still to come — but she wasn’t acting like she was in a hurry to push it out. I gave her 10cc of Bovi Sera, and 12cc of B-complex. I then went back to the office, and gave a couple of cc’s of Bovi Sera to the kid. (Bovi Sera is an OTC, injectable immune system booster that we keep on hand for these kinds of situations. It’s a cheaper alternative to goat serum.)

HFG milked as much colostrum as she could out of Thistle. We ended up getting about a cup, which wasn’t bad. I found an old 2.75oz feeding bottle and nipple that Little Miss Sweetness had used as an infant. We filled it with colostrum, I wrapped the kid in a fresh towel, and then I got comfortable on the couch in my office. He sucked down the whole bottle in short order. I refilled it, and he took some more — about 4oz, or half a cup, altogether. I was very pleased.

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As a brief aside: I bought that sweatshirt in December of 1986, the day I got my acceptance letter from Northwestern. It was the only one I could find in Seattle. If you’d told me then that, nearly 30 years later, I would (1) still own that sweatshirt, (2) live on a farm, and (3) be wearing that sweatshirt while I bottle-fed a goat … I’m sure I would’ve laughed until I passed out.

Okay, back to the story. Floyd eventually finished with the goat kid, and the kid got sleepy. I made him comfortable in a large box in my office. Sometime after 11pm, I checked on Thistle again. Still no sign of another kid, and she still wasn’t getting up and standing on her own. I tried leading her to a separating pen, but she refused to go. I was concerned about her, but there wasn’t much else I could do. I couldn’t sit in the barn with her all night. I made her comfortable in a corner of the main goat area, and then called it a night.

Early this morning, when I came out to do chores, I checked on her first. She’d indeed delivered another kid, but it was stillborn. I helped her up, and she was getting around significantly better. She even went to the closest feeder, and began nibbling on some hay. I disposed of the dead kid, and then took care of the rest of the animals. No lambs yet, but they should start dropping soon. The ewes sure look ready.

Back in my office, I took the kid from the box and stood him up. He urinated, which was a very welcome sign. I then left him alone on the carpet and just watched him for awhile. He struggled several times to get to his feet by himself, and kept toppling over. I resisted the urge to intervene; he had to figure out how to do this. And, eventually, he did. He would try a few tentative steps, and then topple over. He’d cry, struggle, and then get up and try again. All of this was excellent, and very heartening.

What wasn’t heartening was his disinterest in more colostrum. I tried several times to get the nipple in his mouth, but he wouldn’t take more than a swallow or two. I turned him over to Homeschooled Farm Girl. She’d moved Thistle to a separating pen, with her own feed and water. She put the goat kid in with him, making sure to physically latch him on to an nipple. He’s still getting the hang of it. HFG will continue going out until we know he’s got it figured out. In the meantime, she’s also milking some colostrum from Thistle.

There’s nothing quite like Easter on the farm…

StoKid Riding High

With Spring weather here at last, Homeschooled Farm Girl (age almost 17) and I have been logging big miles on our bikes. We’re preparing for the Calvin’s Challenge 12-Hour race, approximately one month from now, and hoping to beat the 188.5 miles we managed to do last year.

The younger kids want to get in on the fun, but of course can’t keep up. The 13 year old is probably going to inherit HFG’s old Trek road bike; he’s taken it out a few times, and really likes it, even though he’s not in good enough shape to keep up with HFG (who got a new road bike over the winter). Little Brother (age 6) keeps begging to ride with us as well. What’s a dad to do?

The sixteen year old and I got out for 38+ miles early this afternoon. We thoroughly enjoyed the sunny, 50 degree March weather, especially given that most of our route was on quiet rural roads. Would a few more degrees have been nicer? Sure. But we had plenty enough clothing to be comfortable. I took my vintage Basso Gap road bike, as a fun change of pace, and was barely able to keep up HFG.

We got home, and then it was the boys’ turn to join us for an additional six miles. Big Brother is still getting the hang of his sister’s old road bike, so that’s plenty of miles for him for now. And as far as Little Brother goes … I don’t want to take him on too long of a ride too soon, and have him get discouraged. So, six miles is plenty for him as well.

How does a cyclist dad take a six-year-old on a six mile ride? In a such a way that the six-year-old can be a full participant, and not just a passenger?

Behold, our Co-Motion tandem bike:

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I’ve zoomed in on the drivetrain, so you can get a better idea as to how it works. Each rider has a set of cranks. Mine (the “captain”), up front, are connected to the “stoker” cranks in the rear via a long chain on the left side of the bike. There is a regular set of chainrings and sprokets on the right side, just like any other bike would have.

If Big Brother were riding stoker, that would be the end of the story. However, Little Brother’s legs are way too short to reach the pedals at the bottom. That’s where the child conversion kit comes in. Notice that I’ve bolted an additional set of cranks to the tandem frame, just under the stoker’s seat. These are connected by the vertical chain to a second chainring on the lower left cranks.

Child Kit 2016

This whole kit can be attached, or removed, in about five minutes. The upper cranks are held in place by four hex bolts. All I have to do is remove them, remove the cranks, and the vertical chain simply slips off. Add a set of pedals to the main cranks at the bottom, adjust the seat height, and we’re in business for a new stoker. (The second chainring just stays in place; it isn’t interfering with anything, so it doesn’t need to be removed.)

Did Little Brother enjoy his first ride today? Oh, yeah! He had an absolute blast, cranking his pedals, as we flew along country roads. Yes, the captain supplies a huge proportion of the power. But that’s okay. StoKid is giving it everything he can. Best of all, he doesn’t have to worry about keeping up with Dad. And he’s close enough to carry on a conversation.

Our speed was naturally slower than what HFG and I rode earlier in the afternoon. And that’s fine. I still got a plenty-good workout, pedaling this beast. I sure enjoyed the change of pace. And the enthusiastic waves we got from other little kids as we cruised past them. And, above all, the smiles my StoKid gave.

Here’s hoping we have many more in the months to come.

Leader of the Ducks

A couple of summers ago, a neighbor stopped by our farm. He lived a mile or so up the road, and we’d never met before. He had a strange question: Would we be interested in another goose?

He’d driven past our place hundreds of times, and had seen our big gaggle of geese out in the pasture, so he knew we raised them. Somehow or another, he’d acquired a goose but didn’t want it anymore. I never got the whole story. Anyway, he wasn’t sure what to do with it. He couldn’t chase it off. He didn’t feel comfortable butchering it. Could he give it to us?

Sure, I replied. Our geese have been pretty good about welcoming new members into the flock. And if it didn’t work out, I could always simply butcher the thing.

He said that he’d try to catch it and bring it by sometime. I told him that if we weren’t home, he could simply throw it over the pasture fence.

Apparently, that’s exactly what happened. We never saw the neighbor again, but a few days later there was a really weird-looking bird wandering around in the pasture. It was quite large, and gray, but (unlike a gray Toulouse) with a knob on its head. It looked a lot like the African goose we already had, except bigger. I concluded it must be an African gander. Nice. Now we have a breeding pair, I thought.

Except there was a problem. The rest of the flock wanted nothing to do with this interloper. Every time he approached them, they ran him off. I realized that all the other times we’d introduced new geese to the flock, they’d been young goslings. Within seconds of putting the goslings on the ground, a couple of flock females would swoop in and claim them — and then the entire gaggle would start trumpeting an initiation rite. A few minutes later, the goslings would follow the rest of the birds around as if they’d been hatched on the property.

Given this rejection, I assumed I’d have to butcher the new gander. I was fine with that. If he wasn’t going to work out, he wasn’t going to work out. It was just kind of sad, watching him stand around all by himself. Geese are social animals, and he looked downright forlorn. That said, simply being out in the pasture, he certainly wasn’t hurting anything. Since I was really busy with work (it was summer of an election year), and didn’t have time to butcher him, I figured I’d give him a couple of months.

Then something unexpected happened. Our ducks adopted him as their leader! We had about a dozen ducks at the time, and they tended to keep to themselves. (You know, “birds of a feather” and all that.) But, suddenly, there was this great big huge sort-of-duck wandering around and trying to fit in where ever he could. He started following the ducks around. Before long, the ducks were following him around. They became their own group, and went everywhere together. It was so much fun to watch, I decided not to butcher him that fall. Here they were, in the middle of last winter:

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Eventually, sometime last summer, the geese accepted him as one of their own. I didn’t notice an initiation rite; there just came a time when the ducks were running by themselves, and he was running with the geese. He now hangs out with the geese exclusively. As far as I can tell, he’s now a full member of the gaggle.

So, if you’ve ever “taken a gander” at something, but initially not succeeded … keep at it. Find a way. Who knows how much fun, and how much of an adventure, you’ll have as you get there.

Yew’s Not for Ewes

When we’ve been weeding in the garden, or trimming trees, we have a natural first choice for disposal of what we’ve eliminated: we feed it to the livestock. The goats and sheep love the variety, especially when they haven’t had much variety in a while. Goats have a reputation for eating everything; that’s not quite true, but they will at least nibble on pretty much anything you throw to them.

There are some trees and plants that are highly toxic for ruminants, however. Before tossing some random green thing over the fence for the sheep or goats, it’s important to identify that thing. Most of us end up with the same kinds of weeds growing in the garden year after year — so, get a good field guide and get to know your weeds. In our case, almost every weed is safe except one: Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade). We get a lot of it in our garden, especially later in the summer, and it grows close in with ragweed (which is fine to feed to ruminants). I make sure I pull the nightshade first, and dispose of it safely, before pulling the ragweed.

Back in Illinois, we had a lot of poison hemlock (Conium maculatumgrowing on our property. Problem is, we also had a lot of Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) on the property — and the two weeds look very similar at first glance. The latter is harmless, but the former is highly toxic. Our first year of farming, I was clueless as to the danger of poison weeds; I thought green stuff was green stuff. As a result, I threw a bunch of poison hemlock leaves in for our first batch of baby goslings. Within a half hour, they were dropping dead. We figured out that something must be making them sick, so we pulled all the green stuff out. We managed to saved some of the goslings, but it was a painful and expensive lesson. There are few experiences as wrenching as watching helplessly while your thriving baby birds keel over dead. I’d hate for someone else to have to go through this.

So, get to know what’s growing on your property — or, at least, make sure someone in your family does. At our place, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer is the resident expert on weeds and the perennial trees / shrubs in yard. I think she’s memorized the field guide, and can tell you the name of every plant on our property.

MYF’s knowledge and study saved a lot of problems yesterday. I decided to take advantage of the beautiful spring weather, so found a set of loppers and trimmed the Yew trees growing near the house. Not being the “tree / shrub” expert, I didn’t even know what these things were. But she did. Before I’d even made the first cut, she warned me: “Don’t feed these Yew branches to the animals. I’m almost positive that Yew is toxic for sheep and goats.”

I replied that I hoped it wasn’t toxic, because I’d been hoping to provide the ruminants with some variety after a long winter of hay and grain. Pretty much their only treat had been our Christmas tree.

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While I went to work trimming branches, MYF double-checked about Yew. Sure enough, multiple sources warned that it was highly toxic for all ruminants.

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Good thing she was on the ball. I made sure the Yeoman Farm Children took all the branches to the burn pile. As for providing the sheep and goats with some variety in their diet? Well, dandelion season will get here soon enough.

Celebrating 3/21

Have you ever discovered that you were not simply mistaken about something? That, rather, that you were completely and utterly wrong? Today, I have an article published which describes my own personal attitudinal turnaround with regards to Down syndrome. Had it not been for the arrival of Little Miss Sweetness, two and a half years ago, I would most likely still be steeped in the deep-seated biases that I’m now embarrassed to admit I’d clung to for so long.

This link will take you directly to the article.

The article references a piece I wrote two years ago; if you missed that one, you can read it here. The current article essentially focuses on one small part of the first one, and expands on it.

Why did I write these articles for publication around March 21st of their respective years? Because this is World Down Syndrome Day. It’s on 3/21, to align with the three copies of the 21st chromosome which cause Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome).

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I’m not a person who typically advocates for “causes” or is much into “awareness.” I’ve never worn one of those ribbons, of whatever color. I make an exception for this particular cause. I know from my own personal experience how easy (and natural) it is misunderstand Down syndrome. Given the degree of misunderstanding out there, it’s not surprising that a large number of pregnancies involving unborn children with Down syndrome end in abortion. People are scared of Down syndrome. I know I was.

Here’s hoping that many hearts will be changed, and many minds will be opened, more quickly than my own was.

Excellent Holy Week Viewing

Holy Week is now upon us. These are the final days of Lent, during which we prepare for the great paschal mystery of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The best preparation, of course, is to attend the sacred liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and (finally) Easter. Prayer, and traditional devotions such as the Stations of the Cross, are also essential. However, as you make your preparation for Easter, there are a few television programs that I also highly recommend.

The first is Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ. No, it’s not for the faint-hearted; it’s one of the bloodiest movies I’ve ever seen. But none of that blood, or violence, is gratuitous. It all really happened (and was probably even worse in real life). I’ve seen it a number of times now, and get something new out of it every time. It’s impossible to watch this film and not come away with a profound sense of sorrow for your sins, and for a renewed appreciation for what it cost to redeem us from our sins.

In addition to the usual sources (such as Netflix and Amazon), a couple of different cable networks will be showing it several times this week (all times Eastern).

TBN will be showing it on:

  • Monday at 1am
  • Wednesday at 5pm
  • Holy Thursday at 10pm
  • Good Friday at 4:30pm

UP network will be showing it on:

  • Good Friday at 11pm
  • Holy Saturday at 9pm

A few years back, the History Channel put together a fascinating documentary called The Real Face of Jesus? It’s a scientific investigation of the Shroud of Turin, which is believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus. A team of graphic experts uses 3D software to bring the image on the shroud to life. It’s a really remarkable undertaking, which shows how faith can work together with science and technology to give us a better understanding of who Jesus is. History Channel is airing it on Holy Saturday (March 26th) at 10am. Or, you can watch it on YouTube:

My final video recommendation might seem a bit odd: The Star of Bethlehem. Yes, the primary focus is on the Christmas star which the Magi followed. But the scientific, astrological investigation goes far beyond that. Rick Larson realized that modern software allows us to plug in any geographical location, along with any date in human history, and produce an accurate map of how the various stars and constellations were aligned on that particular day. Larson shows the peculiar alignment and motions of stars around the time of Christ’s birth, and why the Magi would have interpreted these signs the way they did.

Larson then “fast forwards” to the original Good Friday. He explains how he identified Good Friday, shows what the stars and constellations looked like on that day (including the eclipse recorded in the Gospels), and makes some fascinating observations about how these “signs in the heavens” connect with what was playing out on Calvary. I came away from it with a much deeper appreciation not only for the events of Christmas, but also for the events of Good Friday. Again, this is a really excellent example of science working together with faith to deepen our understanding of Christ’s life and death.

The video is available at Amazon, on Netflix, or you can stream it on YouTube:

Having Need

Who are your favorite minor characters in the Bible? The gospels, in particular, introduce a number of intriguing people we never hear much more about. This weekend, at the beginning of the Palm Sunday liturgy, we will be hearing from one of my favorite minor characters. He isn’t named, and you might miss him altogether if you’re not paying attention. But he’s an interesting guy, and I’ve learned some important lessons from him. Can you spot him?

Jesus proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.
As he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany
at the place called the Mount of Olives,
he sent two of his disciples.
He said, “Go into the village opposite you,
and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered
on which no one has ever sat.
Untie it and bring it here.
And if anyone should ask you,
‘Why are you untying it?’
you will answer,
‘The Master has need of it.’”
So those who had been sent went off
and found everything just as he had told them.
And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them,
“Why are you untying this colt?”
They answered,
“The Master has need of it.”
So they brought it to Jesus,
threw their cloaks over the colt,
and helped Jesus to mount.
As he rode along,
the people were spreading their cloaks on the road;
and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives,
the whole multitude of his disciples
began to praise God aloud with joy
for all the mighty deeds they had seen.
They proclaimed:
“Blessed is the king who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven
and glory in the highest.”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him,
“Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”
He said in reply,
“I tell you, if they keep silent,
the stones will cry out!”

— Luke 19: 28-40

Amidst all the action of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, it’s easy to miss one of the people who made the event possible: the owner of the colt. We may even wonder why St. Luke bothered to include the owner of the colt. How is this small detail important to the Palm Sunday events?

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I think it’s a good reminder that Jesus doesn’t usually act, or even work miracles, using thin air. He often requires others to supply the raw material that he will work with or transform. Think about the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes; without the boy who voluntarily gives up his lunch, the miracle doesn’t happen. Likewise the the wedding at Cana; the servers have to fill the stone jars with water before Jesus turns it into wine. He doesn’t wave his hand and summon the wine from nothing. If the servers don’t follow Mary’s admonition to “do whatever he tells you,” there is no wine. We have to do our part, and contribute our portion. He takes that little offering, and uses it as the basis for his miracle.

Which brings us back to the owner of the colt. It seems he must’ve been familiar with Jesus, and supportive of his ministry, because he lets the colt go without further questioning the disciples. What I find most interesting, though, is the way the request is framed. It’s not really even a request. It’s a statement of fact: “The master has need of it.” Jesus Christ, omnipotent God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, has need of something. He can’t — or doesn’t want — to do everything himself. He counts on our cooperation. Otherwise there is no wine at Cana, no loaves and fishes for the crowd, and no triumphant entry to Jerusalem.

I wonder if what Jesus has most “need” of isn’t so much the physical material itself, but rather our generous giving up of that physical material? And our willingness to deprive ourselves of the use of that physical material, along with our faith that he will do something even better with it?

Lent is an especially good time to think about the physical goods from which we can sever our disordered attachments. For us to reach our full potential of holiness, Jesus “has need” that we detach ourselves from certain physical goods. It might be the selfish use of our free time, or excessive time spent with television, or too much casual use of some treat like alcohol or candy, or something else. Whatever we’ve chosen to give up this Lent, as we enter Holy Week we can renew and further super-naturalize our motives for giving it up.

Looking elsewhere in the New Testament, it seems that the voluntary giving up of material goods isn’t the only thing Jesus “needs,” especially after his death and resurrection. St. Paul tells us, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Col. 1:24). Christ’s physical redemptive suffering took place at one particular time; what is “lacking” is the extension of his redemptive suffering beyond that particular time. That’s where you and I come in. Following Paul’s example, each of us can offer up his or her own sufferings for the good of the church and others in our own time.

Thus, with this openness to every human suffering, Christ has accomplished the world’s Redemption through his own suffering. For, at the same time, this Redemption, even though it was completely achieved by Christ’s suffering, lives on and in its own special way develops in the history of man. It lives and develops as the body of Christ, the Church, and in this dimension every human suffering, by reason of the loving union with Christ, completes the suffering of Christ. It completes that suffering just as the Church completes the redemptive work of Christ. The mystery of the Church—that body which completes in itself also Christ’s crucified and risen body—indicates at the same time the space or context in which human sufferings complete the sufferings of Christ. Only within this radius and dimension of the Church as the Body of Christ, which continually develops in space and time, can one think and speak of “what is lacking” in the sufferings of Christ. The Apostle, in fact, makes this clear when he writes of “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church”.

— John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, #24

When I encounter some kind of setback, or life throws an unexpected curve ball or suffering my way, I like to think: the master has need of it. His church, which is his body living on today, has need of it. Whatever this difficulty is, I can offer it up as a sacrifice along with my prayers.  This suffering, this affliction, this difficulty … the master has need for me to offer it for the building up of the church.

I may not own a colt, but I can still profit from and follow the example of one man who — many years ago — did own one, but gave it up because the master had need of it.