Passages

Spring is always a time of new beginnings on the farm, and that’s certainly been true this year. In early March, before Spring even officially got here, we had over a dozen goat kids born. It’d actually been a long drought; the kids were way overdue. We woke up the morning of March 6th, still with zero kids. By the evening of March 7th, we had SEVEN. Two sets of twins, and our first-ever set of triplets. Over the course of the next week, the rest of our goats delivered. They ended on the evening of March 13th, with another set of triplets. Here they were, trying to warm up in my office, the morning of March 14th:

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One of the males was very strong and went right back out to his mother. The female unfortunately had been born in very poor shape, and she didn’t make it past the first day. The other male was in-between; he was in poor shape, but just strong enough to pull himself to his feet, stand, and take a few steps at a time. He stayed in my office for several days, hanging out with the dogs. I actually grew adept at bottle-feeding him at my desk, while checking email. (The Yeoman Farm Children were bottle-feeding a couple of others, out in the barn.)

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To say we had our hands full was an understatement. We certainly didn’t need a dozen goat kids; what we really wanted was the milk, and a few females to keep as replacement milkers. One of our goats in particular, Button, was getting really old (she was our last surviving goat to have made the move from Illinois nine years ago), and had been looking especially worn out after this most recent kidding.

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer got in contact with the woman who serves as the goat coordinator for our county’s 4-H program, to see if they had any interest in our males. (The Yeoman Farm Children themselves haven’t participated in 4-H; we think it’s a fine organization, but we’ve simply had too many other things going on.) The goat coordinator was delighted and relieved to hear from us. As it turns out, they’d been unable to get kids this year from the large goat producer who usually supplies them. With the weird weather last fall, it seems everyone’s goats had gone into heat late. That meant kids were late this year. She had a long list of 4-H children who were wanting goat kids to raise; MYF’s call had come just in time.

All our goat kids are mixed dairy breeds, which is fine for our purposes, but it means the males don’t get especially large – and they’re not especially valuable as breeders. So, we let seven of the males go for ten bucks each. We gave away the frail one for free. And we even threw in what was left of the milk replacer that we’d bought.

All told, financially, we barely broke even (the 22# bag of milk replacer alone cost over $50) — but that wasn’t our goal. We wanted those bucklings gone, and we wanted to help out some local children. Above all, we wanted the milk. And are we ever getting milk: at least six quarts at each milking. That’s twelve or thirteen quarts a day. (Yes, that’s more than three gallons.)

Our eldest daughter, who’s taking a year off after graduating a year early from high school, has basically turned the kitchen into a cheese factory. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer has been assisting, especially with the hard cheeses; her press has been running more or less non-stop.

As if that weren’t enough, March decided to truly go out as a lamb: on the very last day of the month, we had our very first ones of the year born. FletcherBelle delivered a healthy set of twins (a male and a female), and has been doing an excellent job raising them.

FletcherBelle Lambs 2017

We had another set of twins born two days ago; in fact, they arrived while I was out in the barn taking care of early-morning chores. The female was very strong, and immediately thriving. The male was barely alive, and looked like he hadn’t fully developed in utero (his eyes, in particular, were badly deformed). I wrapped that one in a towel, took him to my office, and made him comfortable in a box near the furnace. I also held him in my lap from time to time. We knew he wasn’t going to make it, but got some satisfaction from knowing his few hours with us weren’t spent abandoned on the floor of the barn.

It hasn’t all been joy and rebirth. Life is a cycle, and we’ve had some sad reminders of it lately (much sadder than the loss of a couple of newborns). A week ago Sunday (March 26th), we lost our very oldest animal, a sheep named Conundrum. She was nearly thirteen years old, and the last couple of winters had been difficult for her. She hadn’t produced a lamb in a while. In recent weeks, she was getting more unsteady on her feet. We really should’ve butchered her last fall, but none of us had the heart to do it — she’d just been with us so long, and was such a fixture in the flock.

Conundrum had the distinction of being our first lamb born to a ewe that’d been born on our property. She arrived on a Saturday morning: April 17, 2004. I was in California, on a business trip, when I got the call from Mrs Yeoman Farmer. I remember being so happy, and so proud, I wanted to pass out cigars to my clients at our meeting. I can’t find any pictures of her as a lamb, but this was her as a yearling:

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And this was her in the Spring of 2014, at the age of ten, with the last two lambs she produced (she had a premature stillbirth the next year, and did not lamb last year).

conundrum 2014-2

She’d been especially unsteady on Saturday, despite the extra attention we’d been giving her. I checked on the flock late Saturday, before going to bed, and she’d seemed alright. Then, when I came out the next morning, I found that she’d left us sometime overnight. Hauling her body out of the barn was terribly sad, but I was grateful she hadn’t lingered in pain. And I did give thanks for all that she’d provided us over her nearly thirteen years.

We closed out that week by losing Button, our oldest goat. As I mentioned above, she’d been tired – and having twins had taken a lot out of her. She was still nursing her female, and we weren’t taking any additional milk from her; our idea was to keep this female as Button’s replacement, and build her as strong as we could by letting her take as much milk as she wanted. Button had seemed to be holding her own, despite being tired, but sometime in the early hours of Saturday … she wasn’t able to keep going.

I found her when I came to do chores that morning, and quickly moved her body from the barn. Our eldest daughter was very fond of Button, and I knew she wouldn’t want to find her like this. She’d want to remember her the way she was, like in this photo from nearly seven years ago (note the lopsided horns – Button was always getting herself stuck in fences, so we trimmed the right horn back to make it easier to free her):

Button-Kid 6.27.10

Disposing of the bodies of dead animals on the farm is always a challenge. Digging graves for mature sheep and goats is tough without a backhoe, so we prefer to give them a “Viking Sendoff” (minus the boat). Early last week, one of the Yeoman Farm Children and I built a large pile of logs and tree branches, and placed Conundrum atop it to incinerate her remains. This past Saturday, we did the same for Button.

It’s a bit sad: we’re down to exactly two animals, both of them sheep, which made the move with us from Illinois at the end of 2007. Soon there will be none. But that’s all part of the cycle of life on a farm, I suppose.

And it’s certainly something to contemplate as we bottle-feed Button’s beautiful little orphaned doe kid, and think ahead to when she’ll be producing kids — and milk — of her own.

Taking the Fourth … And Lambs!

I’ve been an active member of the Knights of Columbus for many years now; the Knights are a Catholic men’s service organization, whose members give countless volunteer hours (and dollars) helping the Church and the community. I’ve also found that being active in the Knights is a great way to meet other like-minded men, and I very much enjoy the time we spend together. My oldest son (previously known on the blog as Homeschooled Farm Boy … which no longer really fits, because he’s no longer a boy and he’s graduated from homeschooling to college, but whatever) joined about a year ago as well.

The K of C has four “degrees” of membership. The First is where everyone begins. Over time, as members decide to make more of a commitment, they can advance to additional degrees. I quickly advanced to the third degree, which is considered “full membership,” and had been there for a long time. I guess I just hadn’t felt a big sense of urgency about taking the fourth degree; it is an optional “extra” on top of the full 3rd degree membership, so not strictly necessary. One practical barrier: it seemed the exemplification ceremonies were always a long distance from home, and would require too big of an investment of time. Don’t get me wrong: I did want to become a Fourth Degree Knight. I just wasn’t sure when I’d be able to do it. (For those unfamiliar, this link has a good summary about degrees of K of C membership.)

This spring, the opportunity finally presented itself. There would be a Fourth Degree exemplification not only in the area — but at our own parish. How could I pass that up? What sealed the deal was that my son also wanted to do it. We’d be able to advance to the highest degree of Knighthood together.

The standard “uniform” of the 4th Degree is a black tuxedo, and everyone needs one for the exemplification ceremony. (A small number of 4th Degree knights make up the “color corps” that most Catholics are familiar with: those are the tuxedo-clad men with cool hats, capes, and swords who sometimes form processions at Mass — but that’s only a small number of 4th Degree guys. The rest of us don’t dress up like that.)

I hadn’t even worn a tuxedo since my wedding, which was more than 20 years ago. My son had never worn one. I ended up buying one for myself, and we rented one for him; he needed it for the exemplification, but he’s probably not finished growing. Chances are, he’s not going to attend another ceremony where he’ll absolutely need the tux before he does finish growing, so we figured a rental made sense for now.

The exemplification was today. It was an absolutely wonderful experience. Not only the ceremony itself, but the full day of fellowship with my brother Knights from all over the region (some drove quite a distance). After the exemplification itself, we all attended the 4:30pm Mass at our parish with our families. There was then a reception, and a big catered banquet. If anyone reading this is a 3rd Degree Knight who’s been on the fence about advancing to the highest degree, my advice is: just do it. It’s totally worth it.

Here we were, after the ceremony, while waiting for Mass to begin:

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We finally got home sometime after 9pm. I changed out of my tux, pulled on my junky farm clothes, slipped into my boots, and headed to the barn. And … found a wonderful surprise. The first two lambs had just arrived! It’s hard to get a good photo in the barn at night, so this will have to suffice for now:

Cocoa Puff Twins 2016

They are twin females, from a chocolate brown ewe we call Cocoa Puff. She’s a good mother, and was busy getting them cleaned up. She still had afterbirth hanging from her rear end, and both lambs were still pretty wet, so they’d only recently been born. I was really glad I’d decided to keep the barn door closed tight today while we were gone; it was a pretty chilly day, with snow and wind gusts (so much for Spring). The temperature inside the barn stayed reasonably comfortable, so I’m hoping both lambs will be fine. I’ll check on them again before I go to bed, but Cocoa Puff is a pro.

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Last year, Cocoa Puff’s lamb died. That was sad, but Homeschooled Farm Girl saw an opportunity to begin trying to milk our sheep. Cocoa Puff gave a lot of milk, and we made quite a bit of really outstanding cheese (cheddar) from it. By summertime, HFG had gotten Cocoa Puff pretty tame and trained for milking — and really enjoyed it. The only disappointment about Cocoa Puff having twins is that they’ll need all her milk. We won’t be able to milk her again this year.

There are still about a dozen more ewes to deliver. I’m sure at least one of them will have a singleton, or will lose a lamb, and thus give us a chance to make sheep cheese again.

What an amazing day! From ceremonies with tuxedos, to the lambing pen, all within a couple of hours. I can’t imagine a better life.