Saving the Queen

I have a goat kid living in my office again, wandering around with the dog (and getting bottle feedings) by day, and sleeping in a box near my desk by night. How this came about is quite a story.

Our best dairy goat ever, by far, was Queen Anne’s Lace. She was also our first goat, and our oldest. She got the name because, as a nearly-full-blooded Saanen, she was basically the same color as the Queen Anne’s Lace flowers that grew all over our Illinois property. We got her already in milk, after her first kidding, and she was a wonderful addition to our farm. Her udder was enormous, as were her teats, making her copious volume of milk easy to access. What’s more, she had a pleasant temperament, was docile and gentle, and readily came to the stanchion at milking time. She is the goat standing along behind the barn in the photo dominating this blog’s masthead.

QAL didn’t have papers, but we think she recently turned eight years old. Eight is no longer young for a goat, but not exactly over the hill. That’s why I was surprised, about a week and a half ago, when she began having a great deal of difficulty following the rest of the herd out of the barn. I helped her over the threshold, but she then promptly stumbled and went down on her stomach. I helped her back up, but she stood for only a moment before again going down. With something clearly wrong, I had Homeschooled Farm Girl help me lift and half-drag QAL back into the barn and over to the separating pen.

QAL’s udder and teats looked full, and given her girth and weight she was obviously in advanced stages of pregnancy. We brought feed and water to her, and made her comfortable in the separating pen; that was a week ago Friday night. On Saturday morning I managed to help her up, but it took great effort because of her weight. She stood for a few minutes, but then laid back down. Given how much she weighed, I chalked this up to the late pregnancy. Once she delivered, I hoped she would be able to rise more easily — like dropping ballast from a balloon. Until then, we resolved to keep her comfortable with lots of clean bedding, bring her feed and water and mineral, and not try to force her to her feet.

I had to leave for a business trip on Sunday evening, which is usually the cue for some kind of disaster to break loose on the farm. Sure enough, Monday evening, just as I was getting ready to go out to dinner with some colleagues in Atlanta, I got “the call.” Mrs. Yeoman Farmer informed me that Queen Anne’s Lace was in labor — and was having a lot of trouble. QAL was in the middle of delivering twins, and the first one had come out easily. She’d now been working on the second one for some time, and was sounding horrible. Nothing more than a hoof was coming out. MYF wanted to know how long she should wait before intervening and assisting with the delivery. We talked it over, and MYF decided to take some time to review her books about kidding; if the kid wasn’t out by the time she finished, she wouldn’t wait any longer.

It’s a good thing MYF didn’t delay long. She called me back a little while later (I was still at the restaurant) with an update: she’d gotten out her big shoulder-length plastic gloves and started reaching inside QAL to see if she could help extract the kid. From what she could tell, the kid was very large. She’d managed to guide its hooves and head into the birth canal a number of times, but it was so big its forehead kept getting stuck halfway out. QAL was exhausted and sounding like she was going into a death rattle. I felt absolutely awful, and wished there was some possible way to get home. I tried to be encouraging, but didn’t know what else to tell her other than “keep at it.”

Back at the hotel, I called again. It was now after 10pm, and things were looking really bad. The kid was still stuck. QAL was still in agony. Back in the house, Yeoman Farm Baby was nearing meltdown. No one had eaten dinner. Everyone was exhausted. Morale was as low as it could be. “I hate to just let her die,” MYF said, “But I really don’t know what else to do. I just cannot get that kid out.”

I said not to worry about the kid. It was probably already dead. Just somehow, some way, get the thing out.

Actually, ssurprisingly, MYF told me, the kid was still alive. While she’d been feeling around inside QAL, her finger accidentally went inside the kid’s mouth — and the kid had reflexively begun sucking on it!

MYF needed help, badly, but there was really no one we could call. Our local vet does not yet serve large animals (though, thankfully, that will be changing later this month). The only vet in 30 miles who looks at livestock is retired from farm calls; you have to bring the animal to him, during regular clinic hours. I suggested that MYF call a friend, to watch the Yeoman Farm Children and help with the house, while MYF finished with the goat — but it was too late to call anyone. Who’s still up at 10pm and willing to come help with this kind of chaos?

With no other options, going on pure hope, I signed onto Facebook and sent a message to a friend who lives up the road and raises horses. I explained that it was too late to call, and we didn’t want to disturb them, but that MYF was totally out of options. If she (the friend) still happened to be up and happened to be reading this message, would there be any possible way she could come over and help with the youngest YFCs while MYF and the older YFCs assisted the goat?

What unfolded over the next two hours was one for the books. The friend was indeed up, and did get the message. She wasn’t personally able to come, but called MYF and suggested some large animal vets that had seen their horses. MYF tried calling them, but they were either unavailable or said they did nothing but horses. In the meantime, the friend’s husband volunteered to help. He had zero experience with goats — but got online, watched some YouTube videos, and quickly read everything he could about the kidding process. He got to our farm a little bit later, and MYF called with this news. She’d managed to feed the YFCs, and was preparing to take the neighbor out to QAL.

With the time now well past 11pm, and it uncertain how long it would take for a resolution to the situation in the barn, we agreed that I should go to bed and wait for a call in the morning. I sent a heartfelt thank-you note back to the neighbor via Facebook, and then tried to go to bed — but the sense of guilt and helplessness gnawed at me. I only got a few hours of sleep, and kept waking up feeling bad about everything unfolding on our farm while I was so far away and unable to help like I knew I should.

I finally got up around 6am, with a heavy heart, knowing we’d probably lost our best goat in a terrible fashion. But then I turned on my phone, and discovered a voicemail notification from Mrs Yeoman Farmer that had come in at about half past midnight. As it began playing, the tone of relief in her voice was palpable. Our neighbor had, miraculously, managed to extract the goat kid. It was HUGE. Far larger than any newborn kid we’d ever seen. Monstrously large. Both kids were in the house in a box near the fire, and were hungry. She was preparing to feed them, and didn’t know how late everyone would be sleeping in the next morning, but she wanted me to get the news as soon as I woke up. Best of all: QAL was alive.

I made many acts of thanksgiving, and walked with a real spring in my step to a nearby church for Mass — where my acts of thanksgiving continued in an unbroken stream.

Once I spoke with MYF later in the day, it became clear we weren’t out of the woods. QAL still hadn’t gotten up. And there was something seriously wrong with the big goat kid — he seemed really slow. But the smaller one seemed very well, and was even learning how to drink milk from a pan.

QAL’s inability to get up was curious. Our neighbor said she’d heard of this happening to horses during pregnancy; if the foal presses on a nerve in the wrong way, it can cause paralysis. I did some research online, and learned that the same thing can happen to other livestock (including goats). I promised to get QAL to our vet as soon as I got home on Wednesday.

In the meantime, I phoned a friend who’s been trained in chiropractic techniques and described what was going on. Is it possible, I wondered, that her spine could be pinching a nerve because it was out of adjustment? This person confirmed that it was possible, and said a spine adjustment certainly couldn’t make the goat’s condition any worse. To my great surprise, this person went out of their way to drop by our farm at 9pm that night to give it a try. They did uncover a few places where she was out of adjustment, and did what they could to get her better aligned. QAL still couldn’t get to her feet, but I was grateful to this friend for giving it a shot. I figured it could only help, once I got the goat to a vet.

I called the vet’s office from the airport, and they said QAL could be seen that evening at 6pm. From my description, the vet said the pinched-nerve-paralysis (it has a more technical name, but I can’t remember or spell it), was a highly likely diagnosis. He’d seen it a lot in cattle, and said it could be treated with steroid injections.

Back home, I learned that the monstrous goat kid had unfortunately expired early Wednesday morning. But QAL was in surprisingly good spirits, despite not being able to stand. Her head was up, she was alert and eating, and would drink from a bucket when put in front of her. I washed her backside, and moved her to clean bedding. She could move her hind quarters and legs, but just couldn’t pull herself to her feet. Still, I was heartened that she was trying.

That afternoon, the YFCs helped me load QAL in the back of our old Ford Bronco, and Homeschooled Farm Boy rode with me to the vet. The vet met us in the parking lot under a street light, and indeed diagnosed the pinched nerve parylasis — but he said he was encouraged by her rumen, and that her digestive system was functioning so well. He gave the goat some steroid injections, and instructed me to call him Friday morning with an update.

Things were largely unchanged on Friday. She was still struggling to get up, and still failing, but was continuing to eat and drink well. The vet prepared an additional injection, which I drove to his office to pick up; I administered that one to the goat myself. And that one had as little effect as the first.

As the weekend progressed, but the goat’s condition did not, the question became: “How long do we let this go on?” The vet told us that animals could be down like this for some time, and that the healing process at her age could be slow. Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I talked it over, and decided that as long as Queen Anne’s Lace wanted to continue fighting…we would continue doing everything we could for her.

The YFCs and I kept going out to the barn several times a day, offering QAL water and grain and good-quality hay. And she continued eating and drinking and holding her head high. And was even beginning to get good at scooting around a little to reach things.

And then came Tuesday afternoon, eight days after the delivery. She drank some water, when offered, but not much. She did poke at the hay, but wasn’t much interested in her grain. She mostly turned her head from me when I put things in front of her. I hoped it was temporary, and that perhaps she was just full. But late that night (after midnight, actually), when I made one last visit to check on her, she still wasn’t interested in anything. Even when offered the bucket of water, she cranked her head sharply away. I sighed, patted her big neck, and told her what a good goat she’d been.

Wednesday morning, to my complete unsurprise, Queen Anne’s Lace’s body was motionless in the straw. I was proud of her for putting up such a good and long fight, and I knew we’d done everything we could for her. It was tough losing her, but the end of the road comes eventually for every animal — even the best.

Are we sad? Sure. She was the greatest goat we could’ve asked for. The toughest part, by far, was removing her heavy collar before disposing of her body. The physical difficulty of loosening the buckle reminded me of just how long we’d had her; we fastened that buckle onto her over six years ago, and had never unfastened it since. It’ll be strange putting it onto another goat. It’ll certainly be a big collar to fill.

But as sad as it is to lose her, I remain deeply thankful. Thankful that we got to have such a wonderful goat for so long. But above all, we’re thankful for experiencing the blessing of friends, who dropped everything to help us at odd hours of the night — and at great personal inconvenience to themselves. We learned that even the most monstrously large goat kids can be extracted with some perseverance. We learned a lot about this new “pinched nerve” condition, and will be alert to it in our other animals.

And we have this new, healthy little kid, who’s having a grand time with me and the dog all day every day in my office.

Eating Locally. Even Now

The NY Times has an excellent story this morning about eating locally-produced food — even at this time of year. Seems that some folks on Martha’s Vineyard have developed an informal barter/food economy, in which (for example) those who catch extra fish share them in the summer and those who put up large root cellars of vegetables share those in the winter.

Following Ms. Buhrman for a day or two as she gathers ingredients is a lesson in how to eat locally, even in the coldest days of winter. Because she seems to know everybody on the island who raises, catches or forages for food, it is also a glimpse of an alternative economy of eating, one in which modern capitalism takes a back seat to a looser, island-grown style of bartering.

In summer, for instance, Ms. Buhrman hands out ice from her freezers to help the local fishermen keep their catch cold. In winter, they repay her with fish, oysters and bay scallops.

“It’s just the way we do it here,” she said.

Life Imitates Bad 70s Music

One of our goals in moving to Michigan, other than proximity to family, was to be near other homeschooling Catholic families. We’ve met a few already at our parish, but this afternoon was the first opportunity that Mrs Yeoman Farmer (MYF) had to go visit one of them and hang out for several hours.

As I enjoyed a lazy afternoon on the farm (and watched my beloved Seahawks get trounced by the Green Bay Packers), MYF and the kids were having a grand old time visiting the other Catholic homeschooling family (about 7-8 miles or so away from our place). They really hit it off, and our kids really enjoyed playing with their kids. It was proving to be a powerful affirmation of our decision to come here.

And then something particularly remarkable happened. As MYF was packing up and preparing to head on to the nursing home and take the kids to visit her mother, the husband of this family mentioned something.

“Hey, with all the farming you guys do, you’re reminding me of this great website that you should check out,” he said.

“What is it?” MYF says, assuming it’s going to be Joel Salatin or Countryside magazine or something.

“Well,” the husband replies, “It’s called ‘The Yeoman Farmer,’ and…”

MYF burst out laughing, paused for a moment to pick her jaw up off the floor, and blurted out something about that being her husband’s personal blog.

I guess it took several moments of chaotic laughing before they were able to resume a normal conversation. The husband said he’d been reading this blog since last fall, including everything about our moving to Ingham County (MI), but had been holding off on contacting us — I guess out of a desire to protect our privacy. He couldn’t believe that TYF was really…the husband of the woman he was talking with. “Yep,” MYF assured him. “I am Mrs Yeoman Farmer.” That must’ve done it; who else on earth could have used a title like that?

Anyway, MYF called me at the first opportunity to share this incident, and we both had a hearty laugh.

But I couldn’t help thinking, and mentioning, a really bad song from the 1970s. “You know what this is like?” I said. “The Pina Colada Song.”

MYF laughed; though this situation doesn’t fit the details of the song, she knew I was referring to the shock of getting together with someone you already know in a certain context…and then discovering you’ve unwittingly already “met” through the anonymity of media. And then she began singing, “Do you like Pina Coladas? And getting caught in the rain?”

We both laughed again, and talked about how bizarre the whole thing was. And agreed we were really looking forward to having this family over to visit. Soon.

Trouble Smoothed Over

A brief post-script to my previous post about the neighbor’s dog, which had broken in and killed several of our chickens:

Things seem to be going better. The boy’s parents came over that same night, introduced themselves, and apologized profusely on the boy’s behalf. The boy himself came over the next night and also apologized; all three of them assured me they’d be keeping the dog tied up during daylight hours, when our chickens are out. So far, we haven’t seen the dog again. I’ve heard him howling a bit in protest, but it sure beats hearing chickens squawking in panic.

The kid has his own landscaping/snow removal business. Friday night, we got a couple of inches of snow. After apologizing for his dog’s behavior, he jumped in his truck, lowered the snowplow, and cleared our entire driveway and parking area. This was an enormous help for us, as our driveway is quite long.

So…it’s unfortunate we had to get off on the wrong foot with our neighbors, but hopefully everything’s on track now.

Trouble with Neighbors

I got to meet the neighbors today, and it wasn’t the way I wanted to be introducing myself. Two doors down, there is an older couple. That couple’s daughter and son-in-law live in the house next door to us. That family’s 20-year-old son, in turn, lives with the grandparents two doors down. It’s a bit confusing, and I don’t quite understand the whole thing yet, but the reasons are irrelevant.

All I know is the 20 year old has a dog that may not be much longer for this life. The dog is a large mongrel, about a year old, clearly still getting the puppyness worked out. He seemed thrilled that we moved in with two dogs, and our Scooter especially likes playing with him. With no fences between the properties, he roams over here several times a day.

The chickens acted frightened of him, but he seemed to leave them alone. Until today, anyhow. Both our dogs were in my office building, and I was walking over to the house. There was a loud commotion in the chicken yard, and all of our poultry (chickens, ducks, and geese) were fleeing and making a huge racket. One chicken in particular was screaming in distress, so I ran to my office and grabbed my 12-gauge shotgun. Back behind the chicken yard, the neighbor’s dog was going to work killing that particular chicken. As I approached, shotgun in hand, a funny thing happened: a 4×4 pickup truck with two young men came barrelling across our property. They jumped out and yelled at him, and the dog dropped the chicken.

Thinking this was the 20 year old neighbor, I waved the shotgun and explained that I was intending to scare the dog off with a warning shot (not kill him).

The young man replied, “Oh, he’s not my dog. We just saw him killing this chicken, and wanted to stop. He belongs to _____, two houses down. If it was me, I’d put a bullet in this dog’s neck.”

Just then, the three of us started looking around. There were FOUR dead chickens scattered about. Of course, these were this year’s pullets and were just now starting to lay. All that investment, and the whole egg laying career ahead of them. As the dog was still hanging around, I fired my warning shot above his head; that finally got him running for home. We talked for a bit more, all made our introductions, and they advised me to go speak with the grandfather of the dog’s owner — and take the dead chickens with me.

I did, and the grandfather promised to speak with the dog’s owner and see what could be done about containing him. I felt bad that this was the way I had to meet the neighbors; fortunately, Mrs Yeoman Farmer had already stopped by and introduced herself, so we didn’t get off entirely on the wrong foot.

I’m a dog lover myself, and can’t imagine intentionally harming one other than to put it out of its misery. But if I ever again catch that dog even looking at my animals funny, all my inhibitions are going to go away.

Arrival

We’re finally catching our breath and getting our life back out of boxes. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I are positive about one thing: we don’t want to move again.

We loaded the truck on Friday, November 30th. U-Haul has a wonderful new service called eMove; it’s a directory of people who can help with all aspects of a relocation. When I reserved the truck, the website asked if I’d like assistance with loading and/or unloading the truck. Curious, I took a closer look — and thought more about the last time I’d loaded and unloaded a moving van. The rates were quite reasonable (typically $50 per hour for a team of two guys), so I decided to give it a try. This was the smartest thing we did, the entire move. Particularly for loading the truck, the two guys were absolutely indispensable. They not only did all the heavy lifting, but they also knew the most efficient way to pack the truck. And they stayed until the job was done, late into the night. When they finished, the inside of that truck was an amazing thing to behold; there wasn’t a single cubic foot of wasted space. If it’d been up to me, I would have needed a tractor-trailer to load all of our household goods and it would’ve taken several days; these guys managed to get it into a 26-foot truck, in just 9 hours.

Our neighbors, from whom we buy our beef and who have a large livestock trailer, had offered to follow us up on Saturday the 1st, towing all our animals. However, as the weekend approached, it became clear that the upper Midwest would be slammed by an ice storm that day. It looked like we’d easily be able to beat the storm to Michigan, but our friends would be in the thick of it heading home. Indeed, that’s what happened: northern Illinois had multiple inches of sheet ice covering everything by late afternoon. And fortunately, we and the neighbors had decided ahead of time that they shouldn’t attempt to go on that day.

We did get in just fine, and our eMove helpers got our truck unloaded Saturday night. I was utterly exhausted, and in no frame of mind to do much of anything. It took all I had simply to assist the movers.

I got up Monday morning, drove back to Illinois, and spent the evening cleaning the house. Our friends came over with the livestock trailer, and their teenaged sons and I managed to catch all the animals and load them up. The goats were easiest, as they were already in a small pen. Several sheep managed to break free during the loading process, and we would’ve been in big trouble without Scooter The Amazing Wonder Dog, who managed to round them up again even in the dark. The boys and I then plucked all the chickens off their roosts (fairly easy), and put them in a separate part of the trailer. The ducks were by far the hardest to catch, as the flock scattered throughout the vineyard. Imagine us all tripping over trellis wires in the dark, chasing panicked birds running every which direction.

Somehow or the other, we got everything into the trailer, and left it parked overnight. As inclement weather was again threatening, we pulled out early Tuesday morning. I led the way in our minivan, and the neighbor followed with our Noah’s Ark On Wheels. Rest areas were definitely the most fun, as we attracted quite a bit of attention.

Here’s how things looked upon arrival:

This is the inside of the livestock trailer, just before we let all the animals out. Note: roosters, hens, geese, several breeds of duck, and two guinea fowl (aka Christmas Dinner 2007). Not visible: the 8 or 9 eggs which the hens had laid during the trip. Also, the sheep and goats were in a separate compartment, behind the far wall.

As snow was starting to fall, our neighbor got back on the road quickly. He made it home without incident, and we were deeply grateful for his help.

Meanwhile, we’re enjoying making ourselves at home here. And so are the animals.

Really Big Neighborhood Watch

There’s been an unusual crime wave in our neck of the woods lately. Over the last week or two, someone has set a string of several arson fires. Most of the fires have been in empty (or abandoned-looking) old barns sitting by themselves out in the country. In other words, easy targets for a bunch of teenage punks who want to see how big a blaze they can start. But over this last weekend, a couple of sheds/old barns right in the town of Loda were torched.

The reaction has been interesting. Out here, we literally cannot rely on the police to come to our rescue. Loda has no police force, and most of the blazes have been in rural Ford/Iroquois counties. In other words, the chances of a cop coming across an arsonist are slightly less than zero. So, residents are taking things into their own hands. Some of our neighbors are drawing up lists of all the known abandoned/isolated buildings that dot the open prairie, so as to better keep an eye open for suspicious activity. And some of these buildings are not truly abandoned; they sit on what used to be homestead sites, but now are simply a big machine shed housing a farmer’s equipment (the farmer himself may even live in town).

Abandoned or not, what all these properties have in common is that no one is around to watch them. Our neighbors are now going out of their way to watch them. Out here in the country, all the roads form a grid; each road is one mile away from the next. In going from Point A to Point B, most of us have a fixed route we tend to use — but it doesn’t really add any distance if we instead jog down a different set of streets on the same grid. (It means some extra turns, but not any extra distance.) The general color, make, and model of the arsonist’s car is known (a red, late model, Pontiac Grand Am), so all of us have been keeping our eyes peeled for that as we jog around the grid roads looking at the isolated buildings.

Despite the vigilance, the arsonist(s) hit again last night. Just as we were about to put the kids to bed, a fire truck went screaming down our road. “Go follow it!” Mrs Yeoman Farmer urged. I grabbed a large flashlight…and a large caliber handgun with a full magazine. If I happened to come across a car matching the suspect’s, with a group of teenagers sitting on the roof admiring their latest blaze, I didn’t want to have to rely on the police to come protect me from them.

Turns out, a lot of other people had the same idea. Up and down our road, other vehicles were coming out of driveways and following the fire engine. We found the blaze; it was about five miles north, and was an old barn. Nearly a dozen emergency vehicles, from all the tiny surrounding communities, had responded and the fire was smouldering by the time I got there. I spent some time jogging up and down grid roads, working my way home, but didn’t see anything. Stopped at a neighbor’s, and the teen aged son was standing in the driveway with a 12 gauge shotgun; his father was still out driving up and down rural roads looking for the suspects. Their own outbuildings didn’t have night time security lighting, and the son had stayed home to make sure those buildings didn’t become an easy target of opportunity while Dad was gone. We chatted for a few minutes, comparing notes, and then I went home to call it a night.

Our property has a couple of very old outbuildings that would make inviting targets for an arsonist like this one. It’s been gratifying knowing that (1) our security light keeps most of them illuminated all night; (2) our two dogs bark and anything that moves; and (3) especially, our neighbors are keeping a close eye out for suspicious activity.

The latest update is that neighbors are talking with the county Sheriff’s office to coordinate stake-outs of some of the more isolated buildings tonight. How to best accomplish that, without tipping off the arsonists, will no doubt be the biggest topic of discussion.

On the one hand, it’s terribly dispiriting to know that a serial arsonist is on the loose in this tranquil, low-crime community. But on the other hand, it’s been incredibly inspiring to watch that same community organize itself to take that arsonist off the streets.