Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time!

Wow! Where has the time gone? Just last week (it was last week, wasn't it?) I posted on here about goats...or was it? Now I realize nearly 2 years have flown by since I last sat down to document the crazy, bizarro life on the ranch.

A lot has happened in that time. Here is the past 2 years in a nutshell, or Reader's Digest Condensed Version:

1 - 2007 - We decided that meat goats just weren't enough work for us. We purchase a herd of Berkshire pigs from Manitoba. In our excitement we "order them up" without first a) consulting anyone else on the farm b) having a suitable abode for such pigs or c) consulting with a financial, spiritual or mental health advisor. And by "we" I mean "me". The pigs arrived no worse for wear and so what if they spent the first few months of their time on the ranch "free ranging" about. That's what pasture pork is all about, right?

2 - We soon realize that pigs are PROLIFIC ie. rabbits would have a hard time reproducing with such efficiency. Result = our herd grows at an astronomical rate.

3 - We realize "Holy doodle! We have 140,239 pounds of pork to sell! WHAT NOW!?"

4 - The logical a meat shop.

5 - And a cafe.

6 - And a deli.

7 - And a bakery.

8 - And while we are at it, why not a butcher shop too.

9 - Hey, and a goat dairy would be fun, dont'cha think?

10 - Oh yes, don't forget to add into the midst of this all "Conceive, gestate for 11 months (or was it really only 9?), and birth a completely new human named Nathan Norman".

Phew - I am tired just thinking about all we've accomplished (aka "subjected ourselves and all of those near and dear to us") since that fateful day back in 2007 when the phrase "HEY! I've got a great idea!" was innocently uttered.

If only we knew then that those are the most feared words on this farm.

Here's hoping for a lot fewer "great ideas" in 2009! Here's hoping for a whole lot more rest. And maybe a vacation might be an idea! :)

Til next time...don't be loco, eat local :)


Thursday, June 28, 2007

In Loving Memory of Lil Nes

Today was a very sad day at our place.

This evening I went out to check the animals. As I approached the goat pen I realized something was "off". My little bottle baby, Nesbitt, wasn't running up to the gate, bleating and happy to see me. This was very unusual. I called and called and looked through the herd for him (it takes a while to find an all white goat in a herd of all white goats). He was no where to be found. I scanned the fence line and saw a goat down by the waterer. I ran over and found that it was Nes. He had gotten his horns tangled in the fence and was electrocuted by the electric fence. I was so devastated to find him. Poor little goat. He was such a dear, sweet little soul. He was born prematurely, pink with a soft sheen of thin fur and weak, bowed legs. He lived in our laundry room for a month while we bottle fed him. We splinted his legs so he could gain strength to stand and walk. Lil Peanut would push him around in his laundry basket. As he grew older we moved him outside where he grazed in the yard and took walks with us. We started to train him to work with the wagon with hopes that one day he would pull Will around the farm in it. He was a great friend to all of us. He had a wonderful temperament and loved people. When I saw him yesterday he bleated and followed me the entire length of the pasture as I walked home. I promised him that I would come back for him soon and take him back "home" once the apple trees were fenced off. I regret not taking him home sooner. I feel very guilty that he suffered the way he did.

We are very heartbroken and saddened tonight to say farewell to a great little goat. I will miss you Nes. You were one in a million.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rhubard and Newt

The little piggies continue to grow and become more and more frisky and friendly by the day. The little female has been dubbed "Rhubarb". She is quite a bit bigger than her brother and is already sporting some lucious curves and the beginnings of a pot belly. She is quite proficient in the bottle feeding department and will down 1.5 TBSP in approx. 6 seconds. Wowsers!

The little male has been named "Newton" or "Newt" for short. He is darker than Rhubarb as he has black skin (and she has pink skin). He is quite small and not as voracious of an eater. But this little pig LOVES to snuggle.

The two of them are becoming quite the demanding house guests. Anytime we walk past the laundry room we are met with screeches and squeals. They will try to climb out of their laundry basket home if they don't get their grub every 2 hours around the clock. Very exhausting! We offered them a saucer of milk today with a little Cream of Wheat added in. They both promptly rolled in it, covering themselves from head to toe in sticky, glue-like oatmeal substance. Argh. I quickly bathed them in the kitchen sink and try to remove the crud from every orifice on their little piggy bodies.

Here is a picture of Daddy showing lil Peanut how to gently bottle feed the piglet.

Here wee Peanut tries it out for himself. He's a natural!! Notice wee Newt cruising around on the floor. Lino is slippery on lil piggy hooves (but it does make the cutest clickety-clack noise).

Here the lil cuties are tucked in for bed on their hot water bottle. Notice that they have already chosen one end of their "home" as the designated potty zone. Pigs are miraculously tidy critters. After they eat they trit-trot down to the one end, go potty then trit-trot back to the hot water bottle to snuggle up with each other.

I'm sure its unnatural to love pigs this much, but, geez, how cute are they!

Take care,

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

This Lil Piggy is WEE, WEE, WEE!

Excitement has graced our farm once again with the arrival of pot bellied piglet babies. Lulabelle and Vern are the proud parents of some tiny little tykes!

This is the little girl.

Here is the little boy!

Unfortunately big old Lulabelle laid on 4 other babies, so we have taken these two little bundles of squeals into our house to bottle raise. We have them nestled in a bed of towels on top of a hot water bottle and have been giving them fresh, rich Jersey milk from a kitten bottle every few hours. They are sure fiesty little fireballs and not afraid to tell you what they think about things. I've never heard such a big squeal out of something so tiny!

Take care,

Sunday, May 06, 2007

We Didn't Start the Fire

The Infamous Brushpile Fire of 1992.
Our well-meaning father starts up the ole brushpile with a rock, a rag and some diesel fuel. We admire the flames for a bit, then go in for supper. Darkness falls upon us. We look out the window to see flames leaping as high as the tree tops. Dad races out to the scene with pails of water and blankets. He is beating at the flames with the help of our neighbour, Earl. The fire is racing through the grass and consuming spruce trees in a single burst of flame. Our neighbour, Diane, is out on her lawn with a piddly garden hose attempting to protect her mobile home. The fire trucks come. I am watching all of this from Dad's truck. I'm about 11. The fire cheif, Harry, comes over and says "Ma'am, your going to need to move your truck". I'm 11. What the hell! Mom calls to see if we are going to 4-H. Morgan informs her that we are battling a forest fire. Nonchalantly, of course.

The Semi-Disapointing Brushpile Fire of 2007.
A pile of old rotten shit has been accumulating for the last 15 years. It is an eyesore...a wart on the face of the farm. Mom takes Will to music class and I manage to pressure well-meaning Dad into lighting her up. Grandpa Bill comes over, giddy with anticipation of what may be the next big Murray gongshow. Dad pours at least 30 gallons of diesel fuel at random spots on the pile. He then uses a half a box of matches to ignite the pile. The banter between the two Murray men about the best way to light the fire is GOLD. "Jeeeeezus Keeeeeer-iSTE Billy, what are you thinking?" The pile goes up in flames. We sit in lawnchairs and observe, our own feeble garden hose running non-stop to prevent our trailer from going up in flames. Apparently this is boring to the Murray men so they attach two 20' lenghts of pipe to the tractor bucket and proceed to poke, scoop, bulldozed and stir the fire up.

Grandpa continues to heckle and beller orders at Dad about "Jeeeeeesuz KEEEEEEE-RISTE!!! Don't get in that deep sod there! You're gonna get stuck and sink up to the frame and then we'll have to watch your tractor burn!!!!!" It is entertaining as Dad is 300 yards away inside the tractor, immune to the bellers from Gramps. The fire crackles for a few hours and sizzles down to a smoldering pile of ash by evening. Grandpa is disapointed in the lack of action so he barks orders that I bring the rake (none to be found, a hoe will do) and a box of matches. He begins lighting random patches of dried grass on fire, rakes it around a bit. Repeat ad naseum. He creates a patchy patchwork of burned grass with no apparent purpose to it. He bellers at me to start doing the same. Fear and respect seem to guide my shaking hand as I too begin the mindless lighting and scrounging-around-of-flaming grass. Mom arrives at the scene and flips out at the sight of large black bald patches of burn. She is sure that the random patches are due to our negligence and a runaway fire. Dad receives a blast o'shit from her now. Happy Birthday to my Dad!!

The brushpile is nearly gone so we start looking for other items to toss into it. Grandpa starts forking in hay that I have sitting in a pile by the fence for the minis. Er, thanks. We start clearing deadfall out of Maude's pen. Dad has the bucket of the tractor over the fence and we toss old rotten branches and trees into it until it becomes so heavy that it actually puts so much weight on the fence that the rail snaps. Great, broken fence. We yank the broken fence apart and haul it the fire. Hmmm, what else can we burn? We start assessing some of the older trees and try to cut them down with the chainsaw. The taller trees won't fall over "timber" so there are now several precariously dangerous cow-death-traps dangling in the trees. Dearly Beloved opts to just push the smaller dead ones over like a bear.

During these festivities the goats somehow escape. Dad says"Leave 'em. They are fine". As he says this they are standing sedately by the billy goat pen. The moment we turn our backs they stampede and run as hard as they can across the field, across Mom and Dad's yard, past the river and way out into the Larsen's field to eat willows. Dad gets a bright pink bucket of oats to entice them back. They surround him and start head butting delicate areas. We finally get the goats back in. The pigs our roaming around loose now. Screw em! We decide to move the lil red barn into the minis and out of Maude's pen. This results in Marla, the calf, escaping and running wild. The minis then escape, and the bastard mini pony Everett and his mini donkey friends are racing around in the smoke of the brushpile, flipping us the bird. We cant catch them so Dad fires up the quad and roars around in the mud, hollering and chasing down the rebel midget livestock. Everyone is finally back in their pens and its time for supper.

Lil Peanut is getting tired and cranky and bellers through the meal. He won't cheer up to Grandma's offers of "Cake??" (vigourous head shake) Whipped cream? (more head shaking) "Strawberries? (shake-shake-shake). Finally I say threateningly "Do you want to go home to bed??" heh heh heh I have his number. This little toddler won't get my goat today! No-sir-eeeeeee! I have the upper hand!! If in doubt, threaten his least favourite thing. To my surprise/shock/chagrin he enthusiatically nods and says "KAY!" and heads for the door and his coat. Hmmmm, go figure. So poor Oomp had a real doozy of a day and a pretty short lil bday party.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Land of Milk and Honey

The stoic Sunflower Gentrice GRJ Buffy and her calf, Clover, my most recent nemesis and object of affection. Or is that "infection"?

I used to imagine a magical land, the proverbial Land O' Milk and Honey. Oh, what a wonderous place that must be.

I now know better.

For starters, bees are bastards. Sure, sure, they do a little hiney dance to communicate with hivemates as to the locale of delicious nectar. They are eons ahead of the fashion industry with their contrasting yellow and black wardrobes. Their work ethic is comendable. Not many creatures hum while they slave away tirelessly for the good of the community. But lets face it. They are bastards. Just ask my brothers who have been on death's door several times due to an unpleasant transaction with one of the cranky critters. Recently my midbro, Mo, sported a hand the size of a baseball glove after being stung by a bee. In a hotel. In November. See, they are bastards.

That clears up the misconception that honey could be anything but vile refuse from malicious, vengeful bugs.

Now onto the milk part of the equation.

Cows are not bastards. I will say that first and foremost. They are docile, calm, and reflective. People that own cows, however, should have their heads examined.

Firstly, who was the first genius to look upon the lowly bovine, with her big wet eyes, drooping "sad clown" nether-regions and swollen mammary system and thought "Mmmmmmm, I'd like to have a drink of that?" I'll admit, dairy is delicious. But whoever was warped enough to consider the possibility of ingesting the excretions of such a humble and dowdy beast?

Secondly, who, in the year 2007, when milk is conveniently available at any corner store at any hour of day, would own their own cow?

Sadly, I must admit that I am guilty.

It began a few months ago. I began dreaming of a simpler lifestyle. I envisioned my Dearly Beloved, Peanut and I sitting around the table at night, enjoying a meal of homegrown veggies, fresh, homebaked bread, tender pork chops, fresh, creamy butter and a dessert of ice cream. Who could imagine a more serene country scene? I want to stay home and mother up lil Peanut. What better way to contribute to the family and flex my BSA muscles than to jump feet first into our own agricultural endevours?

First came the goats. Ahhhh, the goats. Those intelligant, quizzical little nymphs. Joy turned to sorrow and misfortune a week after their arrival when 21 dead deformed goatlets arrived on our doorstep, the victims of a nutritional deficiency.

On to "Big Fat Idea #2". I began searching for a lucious milk cow. Our very own "Lil Lady" who would gladly produce gallons and gallons of mammary excretions in exchange for meager room and board. Off I trotted to search the countryside for this wee lass. Time after time I came up disapointed and disgusted as we visited one horrendous wreck of a farm after another.

Last Sunday my perseverance finally paid off. After driving 2 hour I stood face to face with my brown eyed beauty. "Sunflower Gentrice GRJ Buffy" was her name. A big name for a diminuitve little cow. She was all eyes and hip bones wrapped up in a rough coat the colour of a mud puddle. She posesses a certain air of mystery with her black bandit mask. She knows things I dare not ask her about.

Sunday evening she settled into our humble little pasture which is basically my front yard. I enjoyed gazing out at her lovingly from time to time, warming up to the idea of cow ownership.

It wasn't long before the honeymoon was over. A mere 2 days after her arrival she birthed a firecracker of a calf. A little doe-eyed heifer calf, the size and colour of a fawn. She's been christened in "Blow me over in the clover...that @#*&% cow calved already!"

And with her arrival Clover brought the shattering blow of reality. Its time to wake up, Princess. Your career as a milkmaid begins NOW.

So with very little time to reconsider or prepare, I found myself face to face with the biggest set of tits I've ever seen.

Day 1 - A little uncomfortable with the thought of manhandling the mammary system of another living thing, I grimace and squat on my haunches near the cow's hindquarters. How in the devil do you get milk out of these things? The method for procuring nourishment from these teats is not self-explanatory. Years of cartoons have not served me well. Simply squeezing them does nothing. One must sort of pinch off the top of the teat to stop the milk from backflowing, then close your fingers to coerce it to squirt out of a wee hole in the tip. The tough part is that the cow must actually cooperate and allow this to happen. Convincing a cow that this form of violation is in her best interest is an artform in itself.

One of the largest hurdles to overcome was the discrepency in teat size. You could say she is an A-cup in the hind teats, and a Double D in the front. The front teats require a full hand and a firm squeeze whilst the piddly back end requires two fingers in a delicate squishing motion. Neither is particularly difficult when performed on its own, however, when one tries to do a full-hand-firm-squeeze with the left hand whilst convincing the right to feather-light-two-finger-squish it is akin to rubbing your tummy while patting your head. The result was comical at best, and depression inducing at worst. My mammoth man-hands have never been at such a disadvantage. The end result was that I gave up on the two-handed traditional milking I've seen time and again on TeleToon. I milked the beast one teat at a time, concentrated fiercely on technique while biting my tongue.

An hour later I finally had approximately 1 litre of life giving fluid. That may sound pretty impressive...until you hear that the cow produces 30 L at her peak lactation. That means there are technically not enough hours in the day for me to milk this damned cow. The other sad thing is that after a full hour her udder was no smaller or softer than at the outset of our journey. The poor beast was still sporting a giant, hard, hot medicine ball between her back legs. Dud Milkmaid - 0, Cow - 1.

Day 2 - Morning Milking - Determined to make more a dent in the poor girl's bountiful bag I enlist the help of my father. He's a dear old Dad, but I am coming to see that he is basically an older, male version of myself. This can lead to some interesting times.

7:30 am rolls around and we position ourselves on either side of the cow. We will surround her and tag team her. This mental intimidation will surely coax the milk out. There is nowhere to go but OUT into the bucket. We prayed our strategy would work.

We huddled against the bovine's thighs, shivering in the -13C weather. Our breath frosted up the hair on her bag as we cussed and tugged at her chilly, shrivelled teats. The metal pail began to ring out with the telltale "ting-ting-ting" as streams of warm milk shot into it, freezing against the sides. It was going better than before. Maybe there was hope.

Suddenly out of left field Clover came barrelling towards me, determined to have her breakfast. I pushed her aside, assuring her that she'd have access to the milk bar as soon as I was finished. The calf was not interested in waiting. She backed up and rammed again, this time her rock hard skull butted me in the face. I reeled in pain, screaming obscenities I didn't even realize I knew. Not the soothing, relaxing environment conducive to milk letdown, I fear. My Dad chuckled on the other side of the cow. At least someone was enjoying this. He tries to lighten the mood by shooting streams of thick yellow milk at me, a cow-powered-milk-gun. I fail to see the hilarity, and later will curse him when my winter wear reeks of rotten milk.

The ruckus unsettled Sunflower Gentrice GRJ Buffy. Her hips started to sway and she slowly lifted up a hoof in protest. In anticipation of her literally "kicking the bucket" both Dad and I instinctively reached for the metal pail at the same time. The warm milk that had been running down our fingers froze our hands to the metal pail, leading to a harrowing few moments as we realized we were stuck on either side of an angry mama cow with a metal pail holding us in a precarious position underneath her. Luckily we both managed to escape unscathed, aside from a little flesh missing from our paws where we pulled off the bucket in a helluva hurry.

We finished the milking in 1/2 hour procuring 2.5 L between the two of us. Defeated, I returned to the house to price out automatic milking machines (more than the cost of the cow) and toyed with the idea of selling her and cutting my losses.

Day 2 - Evening Milking - It was dark by the time I tied Sunflower Gentrice GRJ Buffy up. With some anxiety I sidled up to her now familiar thigh and took a deep breath. I grasped two teats, cranked my left-and-right-brain on at once and vowed to DO THIS THING. I was amazed when both hands began to harmoniously tug milk out of her udder. I'm amazing! I'm a prodigy! I am unstoppable! But wait! I am tugging both sides siumltaneously in a rammy fashion, similar to an orchestra conductor's spastic arm movements at the exciting climax of a very emotional piece of music. In embarrassment I apologize to the old girl for my over-exuberant-16-year-old-boy-esque teat tugging and resume, this time with a measure of patience and timing. Soon the milk is "squirt-squirt-squirt-squirting" into the pail rythmically, alternating between the tiny back teat and massive foreteat with such precision you'd never guess I was dealing with anything but the finest matched teats. Confident in my newfound skill I dazzle her with diagonal milking, then just the fore teats, then just the hind teats. I am the Harlem Globetrotters of the milking community.

Pain and numbness start to creep into my hands, arms and back. I feel fatigued, yet the bottom of the pail is barely covered in milk. I begin counting, vowing to get 100 squirts of milk before I take a break. With the manageable goal of 100 squirts I press on, the end in sight. The first 100 are monumental. I start another 100 squirts, driven on by the raw power that is my capable milking manhands.

The cow sighs and relaxes into the new rythmn. I hum to her, I count to her in a singsong voice "-31-32-33". I sing "She'll be coming around the mountain,", I sing her the Pussycat Dolls. I sing her Christmas Carols. She starts humming herself, emitting soft "mmmuh-mmmuh" cow love sounds, the same she'd give her calf. She starts chewing her cud. I am the friggen cow whisperer.

I breathe deep, inhaling the earthy cow smell and take in the dark sky. The only sounds are the reassuring "squirt-squirt" of the milk hitting the pail and the deep, fume-laden rumble of my pickup truck shedding light on this serene scene. Every once in a while my aim is off and there is a "ping" as the stream of milk bounces off of the side of the pail, or nothing at all, as I accidentally squirt milk down her furry hind legs. When I am finished I have a total of 4 L of milk. I'm getting better!! It will only be a couple of weeks before I can master the 30 L.

Yes, I can do this.

I can master the cow.

Now if only I could master my lactose intolerance, we'd be laughing.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Why I am not tough enough for this farming business...

The horrors of kidding season are over, finally. Less than a month of good, honest work and I am totally exhausted. In the end we ended up with 17 live and 21 dead kids. Talk about horrific. No wonder I feel like I've been drug through a slough by my ankles! For the most part the dead kids were born hairless with huge goiters and lasted only a few agonizing minutes of screaming and bleating. It was terrible, and their little bleats are forever singed into my memory. I am angry, very angry, although with whom or for why I am not sure. It just seems that with a horror of this magnitude someone should be responsible or have some answers for me. I wish I had some answers to give the does, who, although they'd never raised their own babies or even had the chance to nurse a kid before cried and bleated for days. Mourning the loss of their kids? Perhaps. Calling out in the agony of going through 5 months gestation, the pain of birth, and now enduring the discomfort of a tight, red, full udder with no relief or kid to show for it? Maybe. Or perhaps they are just goats, and bleating is what they do best.

In the end the vet lab results concluded that the does were iodine deficient in pregnancy causing their kids to be born with congenital goiters. For the most part they were stillborn or died shortly after birth. Of the 17 live kids many were born with goiters, small and weak. We forged ahead, applying iodine topically and holding them up to nurse from their mothers every few hours, determined to pull them through this rough beginning to life.

The last "live" kid was born the evening of February 26th. I went out to check the last two does that were due to kid. Crumpled in the straw was a tiny frame, nearly devoid of hair and motionless. My heart fell...another statistic to add to the death count. Closer inspection showed that this tiny little premature goat was actually breathing! Holy hell! I couldn't believe it. I looked him over. He was frail, not a bit of muscle on his bony frame, a huge goiter on his throat, and weak, spindly legs that bowed so badly that he was walking on his fetlocks. Oh, this miserable creature did not stand a snowball's chance in hell of making it. But I must give him a chance, so I set to work.

I returned to the house for supplies, and upon returning to the barn I found that the last goat had kidded in my absence, bringing an end to the nightmare that was our first kidding season. Two dead doe kids lay in the straw. My heart fell, but at the same moment I resolved that I must throw my back into saving the little premature goat who seemed to refuse to give up on life.

I held the little gaffer up to his mama and he immediately took a teat in his mouth and sucked with such a voracious appetite and fierce will to live that I was shocked. He struggled to stand, forcing his rubbering, bent legs under him. He was a fighter, this one. It was decided that he should become a house goat. Goats without fur are not meant for outdoor living. We made him a nest in a Rubbermaid tub and moved him into our laundry room.

I christened this little goat "Velveteen Nesbit". His wrinkly, pink skin was covered in a soft, velveteen sheen and Nesbit matched his new "foster brother", Norbit. Norbit was a 3 lb triplet who wanted a mama of his own as he was constantly pushed out of the way by his bigger brother and sister at meal time. We bottle fed Norbit for a few days, and promptly moved him in with Nesbit's mama when Nesbit upgraded to palatial urbanization.

Despite all odds Nesbit continues to live. He is growing stronger by the day, with a fiesty attitude and demanding beller at mealtimes. He will down a baby bottle of whole cow's milk in seconds. His coat is finally starting to come in, although it will be awhile before he gains any muscle mass to fill in his scrawny figure. His bowed legs are gaining strength with the help of tiny splints I've fashioned from vet wrap bandages and the handles from plastic picnic forks. He gets stronger by the day and is starting to walk further and further on his daily excursions from his tub.

I know many seasoned goat ranchers would laugh at me for putting so much effort into a lost cause. But really, how can I not? And when you see lil Peanut looking up at you with his Big Brown Eyes and curiously eyeballing the pink, bald goat in our laundry room, I want to show him that all creatures deserve love, caring and dignity right up til their last day.

Til next time,

Tam P. Exhaustion