Friday, December 21, 2007


My world is white outside this morning. Light snow has fallen, which I expect will be gone by noon.

It's the first day of Winter and, in a sense, the first day of the New Agricultural Year. The light, which has been waning since the Summer Solstice, will now increase by small increments each day. As a result, more eggs will be laid. The plants in the greenhouse will begin to put out new growth. All animals and plants respond to the light, despite all the technological advances we live with.

Hope and optimism are the watchwords of the Winter Solstice. I will light a candle in tonight's darkness to celebrate it.

Friday, December 07, 2007


We've had a little snow; just enough to make life a little more challenging. It will be gone in a day or two and the projection is for a warm-up.

Yesterday, the ducks and geese, who always enthusiastically dive into the pond when let out, crashed into ice instead. Since the ducks are under a year old, this was their first experience with an iced over pond. You could see their confusion as they "walked on water", their webbed feet sliding around as they tried to make their way back to the bank.

The edges of the pond melted by late afternoon, and they were all able to get a drink or two and do a little swimming.

I've been sick for the last couple of weeks, thanks to some germs picked up in a doctor's waiting room. Gee, you'd think Science 101 would have kicked in by now and that waiting rooms would be furnished with cleanable floors and furniture so they could be wiped down with disinfectant at the end of each day. I'm still mad about it, and will be until I stop hacking. Well, I guess it's an efficient way to drum up business.

Anyway, between the cold and the cold, it's been a struggle. I'll recover.

Friday, November 16, 2007

November Gloom

The sky is grey and cloudy this morning. It rained a little yesterday and may rain again today. It got very cold yesterday and the leaves are oranges and reds in the landscape. The ground is covered with fallen leaves.

The maternity barn is populated. There are a dozen newborn goat kids with their mothers. They sleep in separate pens with their mothers overnight. They stay in the pens until the moms are fed some grain -- they rob one another if in the common area -- and then it is playtime! The pens are opened and the mother goats usually congregate at the hay while the babies run, jump, dance and generally have an energetic party between baby naps. I am glad to have a nice, draft free place for them during the cold weather. Late in the afternoon, grain is served again in the pens and all bed down for the night.

The Daily Mail had a little article this morning touting the "unusual" birth of a lamb, which is attributed to the weather. Although this is not a typical birthing time on our farm, I doubt that this is all that unusual. It's funny what passes as news and fact in the press. They state that sheep take "three or four months" to produce young. Actually, both goats and sheep have a 145 gestation period.

I spent the morning in the greenhouse yesterday. It was a cozy place to be. I made some progress in re-potting plants and will continue that process over the late Autumn and early Winter.

The cows are in the next pasture, where we've prepared the shed for them in case of really bad, cold precipitation in the coming month. They'll have a place to get out of the weather.

There is still some wine to bottle and a BUNCH of housework to tackle now that there is time.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Putting the Gardens to Bed

Inside, I have this glorious blooming Christmas Cactus which is too spectacular to leave in the greenhouse.
Outside, I'm pulling out the formerly spectacular squash and watermelon vines -- now brown and crispy. Fallen leaves are raked and put into empty feed bags and stored in the barn to be given out as snacks to goats on future snowy days.
Picking up the garden hoses, I went to the barn to get some used sisal baling twine to secure them into coils.
It made me wonder: what do other farmers use the ubiquitous baling twine for? Do you have some unique uses for reusing it?
I always pick it up and put it in one place so that it doesn't trip me and trap me when I'm working in the barn. You don't want to leave it in pastures, because it can get wrapped around cutter blades and other farm machinery and do a lot of damage.
I've thought of crocheting sun hats from it, but never had the time to try it. We sometimes use it to secure cattle panels to gates. Come on, what else is it good for?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

End of October

As I lie awake in my bed, I'm making mental lists of everything that must be done today and some things that might get done. There is obviously much more to do than I can accomplish. My mind is Open for Business.

When I get up it is still dark. I make myself empty the diswasher before I heat up coffee. I have some deeply held belief that I can control my life by making sure the kitchen is orderly. Washington Journal drones in the background, and I catch a beautiful sunrise as I putter around before heading down to the barns.

Yesterday, I managed finally to go to the supermarket and get some supplies.

The rains came and it got cooler. My plan was to get the vegetable, herb, and flower gardens under control by weeding and planting. As it turned out, the goats had other plans for me.

Another kidding marathon started precisely on Saturday morning and it's been ongoing. The maternity barn wasn't even totally cleaned and ready, although luckily I'd started it during the hot weather.

It is so cold in the mornings (frost the last two days) that I want to get to the barn early to make sure the little strangers are warm and dry. First time mothers have a tendency to stand in shock and awe after kidding. Their offspring may stand, wet and bawling in the draftiest and dirtiest part of the barn while they just seem to have no idea what just happened.

One of the old-timers had the sense to kid in a cozy hay-lined back stall yesterday, but she is a dairy goat and I believe there is a difference in mothering styles between them and the meat goats.

We've been exploring the possiblity of setting up a rainwater collection system that feeds an above ground cistern. The drought has been long and affects gardens and livestock production. There are very large cisterns available and one local company specializes in installation.

I'd like redundant water systems on the farm and think it is something that area farmers should be considering. It doesn't look like I can get a USDA grant, as I've already fenced off all ponds, streams, and sinkholes to protect the watershed. This seems like the perfect opportunity to do a Pilot Project. What agency or organization might be interested??

Today, we'll concentrate on goats and catch up on shots, hoof trimming and barn cleaning.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

It's Raining!

It's been raining gently but steadily for two days. The grass is greening up. The concrete waterer is FULL -- which means the groundwater that feeds the spring is replenished.

The ponds are filling. Ducks and geese are happy. Everyone's cows are spending time happily munching and getting an all-day shower. The goats are hiding in the barn eating hay. They don't like getting wet.

Speaking of hay -- it's in short supply this year because of prolonged drought. It's expensive to buy. I'm thinking there'll be more money in brokering hay this year than in selling cattle. The Police Blotter in the local paper listed an incident in which someone stole hay that was sitting in a field last week!

I harvested a wagon load of cheese pumpkins the other day. There are still some candy roasters developing in the garden. The rain should help them along.

I've started some flower and herb seeds in the greenhouse and was amazed to see that something is already coming up after only a few days. I think I'll dig some of the existing tomato plants and see if they'll produce in the greenhouse where whatever is eating them can't get in.

A friend traded me a box of tasty homegrown tomatoes for a cheese pumpkin and some other junk. Thanks, Ginger.

I'd also like to thank my friend, Patti in Portland, for doing that rain dance. It seems to have worked!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Squash Gourmet

The fearless squash hunter goes out at first light, and with her trusty squash knife held firmly in her teeth, she searches through the garden for exotic squashes.

After a successful hunt, she loads the squashmobile with attractive and tasty specimens: pink bananas, blue hubbards, kubochka, cheese pumpkins, sweet dumplings, and candy roasters fill the interior.

The squash gourmet, tired from the effort of lifting these mammoth fruits, nevertheless drives the squashmobile to its destination and unloads them. Sales were good. It seems a miracle that the plastic garden was successful at all.

There hasn't been a drop of rain since I last wrote here and it got hotter. We're just barely making it with water for the livestock and the garden is looking parched. There are still a few cucumbers and pumpkins ripening! It's hard to believe.

The squash gourmet was formerly "the watermelon gourmet" and took van loads of watermelons to the market as well.

The only thing really producing well currently is the fig tree. Some young egg customers got a sample of fresh figs right off the tree this morning and were properly impressed with their sweetness.

I've used up all the wine grapes and blackberries and they are fermenting into wine.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Remember Pigpen? He was the little kid who could best be described as a "dirt magnet." That's me.

On Monday, I took a shower before going out to do the morning chores. That was a collosal waste of time and water. Before going out, I had to change all my clothing and shower again.

Ten minutes after going out, I was covered with mud and sludge. Since the spring went dry a day earlier, I decided to take a shovel and clean out the sludge left behind in the cement waterer. Optimally, you'd never see the bottom of a spring-fed waterer, let alone clean it out.

The cows were going "nuts" looking for other sources of water. They'd been let into the lower pasture to get some grass. No rain for so long has depleted the supply in the upper pastures. The large cement waterer usually accommodates them very well, so the ball waterer was fenced in for the goats in the small front pasture. I filled two large water troughs for the cows elsewhere in the lower pasture, but they broke the fence to get to the ball waterer.

Last night, we worked in the dark to switch the fencing around so that it was on the "cow side", then got all the cows on their side of the fence. It was a lot of work and stress, but as soon as it was accessible, I realized why the cows were so determined: it was the small calves who came up to drink. Head slap! They were too short to drink from the big water troughs! The cement spring-fed waterer is at their level, but the troughs are just too tall.

Actually, I think that cows and goats are very patient with us humans and have to work very hard to get us to understand their concerns.

There is a "slight chance" for rain today, so I'm going to go out and finish cleaning out the cement waterer. All the mud and sludge remaining is dried out completely. No shower until AFTER this and all the barn raking and messing around in the garden. It has to rain sometime, and that will, hopefully, allow the spring to collect water again and fill the waterer.

Optimistically, this is my one chance this year to get that waterer cleaned out completely.

Think rain.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bye, September

'Just a note before September is all gone.

From the window near my desk, I can see that there is just the slight beginning of Fall color in the tree line. It is 48 degrees this morning, a good thing in my opinion. It will be up into the seventies by this afternoon.

We have hay to finish up. A lot of square bales are drying in a single layer in the big barn. It got in before the (short) rain storm we had on Thursday. There is still some to rake in the big field, so we'll try out our new, old, basket hay rake and then make more square bales for the goats.

There are a couple more small fields which can be cut. This year, there will be a hay shortage all over this drought-striken region, and we need to make all the hay we can.

I'm making progress getting through the hundred pounds of wine grapes I bought last Saturday. Each day, I make at least two gallons of juice to ferment. There's a lot of bubbling going on down in the cellar. I expect to have four large glass carboys going for several more months and hope to bottle enough wine to last a year. There will be blackberry, blackberry-watermelon, and grape wines.

The watermelon vines are drying up, leaving walking space in between plants. I'll be picking up all the watermelons left in the plastic garden. The pumpkin vines are still growing and taking over available space. I've picked lovely blue hubbard squashes, small dark green Japanese squash, cheese pumpkins, and pink banana squash. There are some interesting large bumpy acorn-shaped squashes that have not yet reached ripeness and lots of pumpkins. I still picked one zuchinni yesterday and a number of peppers. The cucumbers are still producing.

This morning, early, I put a couple of winter jackets into the washer. I'm feeling like washing all the winter gear and having it ready for the advent of cold weather, even though I'm hoping it won't come until late November. That's probably wishful thinking.

In the meantime, I think I'll enjoy Autumn.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

We've Turned the Corner

We seem to have turned the corner into near-Fall. It rained! yesterday and weeds can be pulled. (I'll be out there shortly this morning.) It is cooler and less humid. I can breathe. So can the cows and goats.

I've been selling watermelons and squash in large quantities and the cucumbers keep coming. The pumpkins have escaped the garden!! Help! They are developing everywhere and even growing up one of the farm buildings. The plastic garden is officially a success. I've even managed to find some ripe grape tomatoes, which I ate right in the garden.

On the pond front: Bob Duck, the last Pekin left after the duck massacre engineered by the foxes last year, has taken charge of the ten buff ducks on the near pond. He herds them in and out of their shelter and is showing them the ropes. I'm sure he's glad to be in the company of other ducks and not at the total mercy of the geese. They are sometimes mean to him.

The young geese and ducks have adjusted to life on the far pond and follow the lead of the older geese.

Chickens and guineas are enjoying a waterfowl-free house and yard. I've cleaned out all the coops and will tackle the main area and the goose houses soon.

Some more hay was cut and baled, but there is half a hayfield left to do when it dries out.

Goat maintenance has started since it cooled down. I'm able to do hoof trimming and worming and booster shots. We've begun grain supplements as much of the herd will be pregnant at this time. The cows are cycling through cross-fenced pastures.

It's a busy time, but at least the heat is at bay and we can proceed to do what needs to be done.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Melons and Squash

The plastic garden is now a sea of continuous vines. You do not see the black plastic underneath. I picked one of the smaller round watermelons. It was a red-fleshed variety and very good. There are plenty more where that came from.

I also picked one of the giant banana squashes. It was three feet long and weighed at least 50 pounds. I'm not kidding. We are familiar with the heft of 50 lb. bags of livestock feed, and this sucker was at least that weight. I'll take a picture of the next one I pick.

I cut the banana squash up into six sections and spent some time baking it in the oven. The goal was to check for ripeness and quality of the squash. The moment I cut into the raw squash, I could smell the nice, nutty aroma of the flesh. Baked, it is dense and bright orange. It is now pureed and in individual freezer containers for winter baking. This one squash is probably sufficient for our pumpkin consumption for the coming year -- but there are several more out in the plastic garden and large pumpkins coming on.

If there are local people who'd like to purchase a whole banana squash or sections of one, let me know. I think it's too big to market in stores and I'll need to get another freezer if I don't manage to sell some. Right now, I've got to use up the frozen blackberries for wine to make room for squash. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not complaining.

The chickens are enjoying all the melon rind, baked squash rind, and steamed blackberry waste in addition to their regular rations.

A little more rain last night may have made weeding a possibility again. My work is cut out for me today.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Farm Wisdom

I'm passing on these words of wisdom for others in the same boat:

If you have a resident helpmate of the male persuasion who can't find the bread in the freezer, don't expect that he can properly harvest the cucumbers when you go out of town.

Cucumbers, unlike bread (which is in a see-through plastic bag with the redundant label, "Bread" written on it) blend in with the leaves.

Oh well, 'lots of nice fresh chicken food for the next week or so.

I got back to a slightly storm ravished landscape. It seems there was a "mini hurricane" a couple of days ago. We'd had rain at last, and it was even raining last night as we took care of the livestock.

The cucumbers, squash, melons, and peppers are just developing right and left. The tomatoes are still being ravished. I will create some sort of cages to put over them. Weeds and soil have loosened their death grip on each other. We pulled some weeds and will continue to do so as long as we can. There is rain in the forecast, but the heat and humidity made me sick this morning. I'll be catching up for at least another week.

Ta ta.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

August Update

Well, it's still hot. No rain yet. We will all be glad when some comes.

We cut into our first ripe watermelon. It was one of the yellow-fleshed varieties, weighed over 30 pounds and was sweet and delicious.

Despite having canned MUCH relish, I sold 66 pounds of cucumbers yesterday. That is pretty amazing. Nine pounds of patty pan squash was also sold.

Something is eating all the green tomatoes and is not affected by my portable motion sensor light. I'm wondering if it is birds landing in the middle of the garden early in the morning. Another security problem to solve...

So, that's the scoop for today. Over and out.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Dog Days

We've had four sequential days of temperatures of 100 degrees and humidity which must be fairly close to that. I come in from morning chores drenched in sweat. These are the dreadful, dreaded days of high summer.

Yesterday morning, I took my palm pilot out with me at about 6:30 a.m. to take update pictures of the plastic garden. It didn't occur to me that the camera would be all fogged up by the humidity at that early hour.

The pictures, I think, are lovely impressions of these hot, humid days. Although we are uncomfortable, the squash is happy.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Water Fowl Most Foul

There are all kinds of ducks: setting (or sitting) ducks are vulnerable because they, like all fowl, go into an "egg trance" which makes them susceptable to predators; lame ducks are also susceptable; dead ducks are the unfortunate result of vulnerability. The subject of today's treatise are dirty ducks.


A series of graduations have been taking place on the farm this week. The half-grown chicks and guinea keets in the floor cage have joined the rest of the chickens in the large chicken house. The chicks and keets in the brooder have been moved to that transition floor cage in the chicken house. Most importantly, the ducklings and goslings have been driven over to the goose house on one of the ponds and are transitioning into that flock.

Naturally, we've had formal ceremonies with music and speeches. All the graduates have been dressed in tiny caps and gowns.

NOT. But, it's a lovely mental picture, isn't it?

Mostly, we all sighed a sigh of relief, especially the chickens, who, each year share their house with small water fowl for a month or two. The ducklings and goslings manage to guzzle all the water and make mud pies in the water containers. Chickens are much neater than water fowl. Ducks dabble. That means they love to sift through mud.

We cannot just put tiny ducklings and goslings out on ponds. The snapping turtles look for little webbed feet and pull them under and eat them. Any eggs hatched out on the ponds are goners. That is why we go through the trouble of keeping ducks and geese in protective custody until they are old enough and large enough to have a fighting chance of survival on the ponds.

There's just one more bunch of buff ducks that need to go out of another poultry house to give relief to the regular residents. The duck house was moved and a temporary fence is going around it in preparation. Another graduation will take place in a day or two.

Water fowl need to learn where "homebase" is so that they will return at night for feed and shelter. Otherwise, the foxes and all the other predators will be looking for nice lunches and dinners.

It's a cruel, cruel world out there. Lucky ducks are those who have a friendly farmer and some accomodating chickens to help them prepare.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Plastic Garden Progress

No one would believe it less than I: the plastic squash garden has taken off! I am picking lots of summer squash; the pink banana winter squash is two feet long and still growing; I've got bags and bags of cucumber and watermelons are forming nicely.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Queen of Blackberries

I am the Queen of Blackberries. I've got the scars to prove it.

It has been cool and rainy for several days. This is a blessing, but I scurry to take advantage of it and don't know what to do first: weed, pick blackberries before they're gone, clean out barns...

As a result, I overdo.

This morning, I'll pick blackberries first in order to stockpile as much as possible in the freezer. I've made the first batch of wine, which will be transferred to a large carboy to continue fermentation. Once things calm down, I'll be taking gallon bags of berries out of the freezer and making more.

What I don't pick shrivel and dry up. This is a window of opportunity which will soon close. The berries just won't be here in a week, a month...

The sopranos are doing great. They were surgically castrated on Tuesday and are just fine. They'll be tenors one day, but never basses.

Their care and feeding, however, takes up a lot of each day. When it's dry, we go for a walk up and down hills. Well, it's a little hard to walk without tripping with three little guys keeping close to my ankles. We'll need to make a gradual transition to the herd so that eventually they can go to the big barn.

Dinky cow has a new little heifer.

There are lots of cucumbers and tasty green tint patty pan squash to pick. I picked the first zucchini. Watermelons and pink banana squash are forming. The pink banana squash looks like an overlarge yellow summer squash at this point, but I know it's a winter squash. I wish someone would let me know how to tell when it's ready to pick. Maybe you go by the stem as in other winter squash -- when it comes away from the fruit, it's ready.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Promised Pictures

The plastic garden is coming along. I actually picked a couple of patti pan squashes. Pink banana squash is forming. The cucumbers have started to produce. I picked the first two yesterday. About six little red tomatoes have been consumed and even beans have come to fruition. The motion sensor light is working for the deer, but something is eating the new shoots on the bean plants coming up. I thought you might also like to see how nice the daylilies are this year:

Saturday, July 14, 2007


When your own mother calls to see if you're okay -- she reads this blog periodically to see what I'm doing -- it's time to update.

Life since the birth of the three sopranos has been very, very busy. Add to the fact that the blackberries are ready for picking now and the garden is in need of reclamation (It's a jungle out there, disorder and confusion everywhere...), three bottle feedings a day, each consisting of 8 oz. milk and 8 oz. water for each of three, and it really adds up.

That's 3 X 6 bottles = 18 bottles a day.
18 X 7 days = 126 bottles a week.
126 X 4 weeks = 504 bottles a month.

This will go on for at least two, maybe three months.

Momma goat is trying hard to get up, but still can't quite do it. She won't be able to make milk at any rate. In order to get all the milk for all those bottles, I must milk three other goats first thing in the morning every morning.

This is cutting into my time to do everything else. I find myself coming in from the barn at 10 p.m. some days and am totally sleep deprived, as I get up at 5:30 a.m.

Here's a flight of fancy: people just LOVE to bottle feed little goats. If I were to charge, say $5.00 for a person to give a kid a bottle, that would be 18 X $5 = $91.00 a day.
$91 X 7 = $630.00 a week! I obviously need to start a petting farm. I also obviously need to get more sleep.
Nevertheless, if you know anyone who would really like to experience bottle feeding a goat kid, let me know.

As far as the plastic garden, I tried to take a picture of some of the squash today and got a message on my palm pilot telling me that the battery is low. It's recharging as I type.

I'll get some photos up tomorrow if the weather be good.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Three Sopranos

Popping in to let you all know that the plastic garden (cross your fingers) is doing well. We really, really need rain and there are some clouds building and the perennial "chance" of thundershowers today. (Double cross your fingers.)

We have a new set of triplet goatlings (bucklings) born last week. Mother is very sick and can't stand up to nurse them, so I'm bottle feeding them three times a day. It doesn't leave much time to do everything else. I'm having to milk out the last of what the goats who kidded months ago have left and supplement with store-bought milk. I used up the last of my store of frozen colostrum the first day or so.

I may have to catch a cow -- many have recently freshened with calves -- and get a good supply of fresh milk for these hungry, hungry little guys. I'm calling them the three sopranos, as they greet me with much anxious high-pitched singing...

Mike, I replied to your comment in the "comments" section of the last post. I'm wondering where your farm is located.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Lavender and Raspberries

Imagine my delight at finding that the red raspberries have begun to produce. I picked a quick pint and then checked to see if the black raspberries are ready. They need a couple of days, but, hey, we're in the berries! Asparagus are still producing. It's an odd year. We're about a month behind schedule.

Yesterday, I cut lavender and hung it in bunches to dry.

We baled some more hay in a couple of small fields.

Here's an update on the plastic garden. Forget about the Thursday pictures, I obviously can't keep to that kind of schedule. I'll post pictures when I can. Not too much difference in a long shot, but we're definitely making progress.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Old Dog Learns New Tricks

This year is different. The garden is starting late. Maybe it was me being too laid back. Maybe it was the weather -- it was an unusually cool Spring and we had two late freezes back to back.

Many (most) of the seeds I planted prior to the last frost didn't germinate. (Hey, maybe it was the seed company? Probably not.) I thought they were cozy and warm under the ground but it just wasn't so.

I was busy attending to baby goat births, baby chick hatchings, ducklings, goslings...

Anyway, things are finally starting to come up. I've got a bumper crop of black-seeded Simpson lettuce, for example. The peas were sporadic. The beets just didn't come up.

So, I'm trying something different this year. It looks like I've got a bumper crop of black plastic growing in my garden. Actually, we put down some heavy duty black plastic to keep the weeds at bay and I decided to just go ahead and plant vine crops, tomatoes, and peppers in the area. They will appreciate the heat and the fact that they won't need to compete with the prolific weed crop we always have. I can see some little green seedlings just starting to come up. So, for the amusement, and possibly the edification, of all -- I'm taking a "before" picture and hoping that the subsequent "after" pictures will show that it's working.

This is risky. What if nothing comes up? Oh, we'll all have a good laugh and I'll never do this again! Let's see what happens. It's an experiment. I'll try to take a picture each Thursday so we can see the progress, or non-progress of the plastic garden.

Oh, by the way, it did finally rain after I posted the last blog installment. Please disregard the weeds in the photo above. Thank you.

Saturday, June 02, 2007


Last week, I learned to use the hay rake on the tractor and I raked the hay prior to baling. Driving the tractor is challenging enough, but I had to figure out which direction to go; drive and rake safely on rolling hills; push the right buttons and pull the right levers.

Wow! I thought: sixty and driving heavy machinery and still learning new things.

I must be losing my marbles.

Anyway, we got 47 big round bales and about 25 small square ones. They're under cover. Now, it would be okay if it would rain. Please?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

May Haying

It's been warm and dry. The hay's ready to be cut and baled. We're hoping for rain AFTER it's all under cover.

Consultation in the field about the dryness of the hay.

The ducklings and goslings have graduated from the kindergarten brooder into a large wire coop. New ducklings are coming tomorrow via a friend, so the duckling brooder needs to be readied. The brooder in the chicken house is all ready for the new chicks that started hatching today. In the meantime, they're in a cardboard box under a brooder lamp.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cool Rain

We got some rain yesterday -- much needed. Lettuces are coming up in the garden. Today, I'll plant seedlings, as more rain is predicted later.

The air smells of clean multiflora rose, which is blooming in our pastures. When the wild rose blooms, so does the wild brambleberry, promising new wine.

The irises are fading; peonies in glory; daylilies budding out. It all happens so quickly.

Meanwhile, I ponder the familiar phrases uttered by those who don't really have an insight into the meaning of:

"Setting duck" (sitting duck)

Don't put all your eggs into one basket.

Make hay while the sun shines.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Quick Update

Iris are blooming beautifully all over the farm. There is a nice, big vase full in the house, wafting the pleasant old fashioned fragrance through the room. Peonies are just starting to open, as are African iris types. Ditches are filled with purple Sweet William and a couple of Columbines have opened up.

We've got three new calves since I last wrote: Blossom, Persephone, and Daphnis.

Some ducklings and goslings have hatched and chicken eggs and a few guinea eggs are in the incubator.

Lettuces are coming up in the vegetable garden and I continue to harvest asparagus.

Friday, April 27, 2007

It Ain't Over Till It's Over

Well, one of the goats didn't get the message that the kidding season is over. She had a single doeling yesterday. Now I'm doubting she'll be the last.

The weather is beautiful and we had some rain last night. Everything's suddenly popping up and blooming outside. This includes poke and other noxious weeds.

I planted beans and harvested lots of nice asparagus. This afternoon, I blanched it and it is now in the freezer on a foil-covered cookie sheet. When it it totally frozen through, I'll vacuum seal it in portions. I see tiny lettuce seedlings in the garden.

Friday, April 20, 2007

They Once Were Lost, But Now They're Found

Hi. I'm back from the imaginary "home." It was actually a head trip to tranquililty while we were working just as hard as usual, and maybe more so. Since I last wrote here we've had some hard freezes after warm weather which have pretty much ruined the fruit crops for this year. Sixty-mile-an-hour winds blew shingles off roofs and kept sleep at bay for three days.

I think I perfected the baby socks to fit my friend's baby girl. Some pretty purple cotton/wool sockies are in the mail and I hope to get feedback on how they fit.

The "bybies" have all learned to follow the herd with the exception of the last triplets born about a week ago. On the first day they went outside near the nursery barn, two managed somehow to get lost somewhere in the next pasture -- probably by walking through the fence, as they are very small. Their Ma was up on the hill with her third kid bawling when I arrived. There was no sound from little kids. We searched for hours until it was dark and put the mamma goat and kid inside. She continued bawling. Neither of us got any sleep that night. I was convinced that coyotes had snatched the kids. That suggested that we would have a continuing problem with predators. I was freaked out by the idea that the tiny kids were dead.

The next morning, I had to go out to do some errands after attending the animals. I kept the bawling mama goat and kid inside along with the rest of the newest kids and mothers. I got back later in the morning and got a call from one of the men working on siding the barn. He said there was so much noise from the goats that he couldn't stand it anymore.

I went down to the barn and there were the little lost ones screaming for their Ma and milk. She was screaming. Her third kid was screaming. I felt like screaming, too. The happiness at finding them overcame the grief.

The men said the kids came down the hill out of a thicket and through the fence. They had tried to put the two lost kids in with the mamma goat, but she was butting them and acting crazy. I asked for help to hold her while I milked out two bottles, since she wouldn't feed them. They guzzled the milk like they'd been starved for days. We had to repeat the milking procedure at night and included the third kid, who, evidently hadn't been fed either. I assume that she was so upset that she wouldn't feed him and her bag was swollen, so it hurt when the kids tried to nurse. Queenie was simply out of her mind with grief and anxiety about the lost kids. All three kids were visibly upset.

By the next morning, she was back to normal, having calmed down and gotten used to having her triplets again. They're doing fine, but have been confined to the small fenced pasture around the barn so that they can get used to following her and not wandering off.

We've all sighed a collective sigh of relief and are just waiting for the next farmy emergency. Can you see why I need to take imaginary vacations?
Just after I wrote this, I went to the nursery barn to tuck in Queenie and the triplet kids. They are the last little family in the nursery, the rest of the goats having "graduated" to the big barn.

Just before I left, I stroked Queenie and told her she was a good mother. Then I picked up each little triplet kid and kissed it on its goaty forehead. A light jazz rendition of, "Amazing Grace" came on the radio, played sweetly and clearly on jazz flute.

"Boy," I thought "this is pretty spooky." I took it as a sign that, for now at least, all is well.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Guest Columnist

This is Quince. I'm writin' this from the five star maternity barn since I have a lot of time on my hands, uh, hooves, while I'm restin' up with mah little twins and waitin' till they're big enough to go out with the rest of the herd.

Miz Scahlet Oil is MIA. She was mutterin' something about checking into a rest home the last time I saw her. I guess she had a bad day rescuin' bybie goats who kept gettin' lost between pastures on the first day they got to follow their mammas out to the big pastures. They were doin' a lot of screaming that day, and Miz Scahlet kept climbin' up the hills to get them out.

She was ravin' about sittin' in a chair and knitting bybie socks... Oh, lawd! If she tries to make socks for all the bybies -- why, that's 45 (bybies) X 4 (feet) = ? I'm not too good at multiplycation, but that's a LOT of socks!

Oh, NO! I'm such a ninny! I'll bet she was just talkin' about makin' socks for that cute little human bybie that her friend brought to the barn! What a relief! That bybie shouldn't need more than two socks at any given time.

We three mamma goats in the nursery barn have been lettin' our bybies go out in the little yard and lie in the sun each afternoon. Today, it's freezin' so we'll probably keep them in most of the time.

I'm hopin' Miz Scahlet will be feelin' better soon. She does keep us fed and clean and comfortable. We need her and hope that knittin' socks will keep her sane.



Friday, March 30, 2007

Redbuds in Bloom

When the redbuds are blooming in Virginia, they create hot pink patches in the woody landscape. Fruit trees are also in bloom. There is an ornamental apricot tree just outside my window. It has deep rose-colored blossoms.

We've had some rain. The fields are greening up and I'm able to begin the pasture rotation for the cows again. I mowed the lawns for the first time this year.

Kidding is winding down and management is getting more under control. It's still a lot of work. The cows have not been slouches, either. We had a new heifer calf the day before yesterday. She is called Blossom. (Yes, she is a dearie.) I was able to lie down on the grass next to her and check her out. She was still too new to be fearful. Momma Cow (Sally) wandered over to make sure I was not molesting her in some way. There are eight new calves in the pasture.

The garden's tilled, but needs to have vegetation raked out before planting. I did manage to get snow peas in the ground.

I've hired a hardworking teenage girl to help out two days a week. Yesterday, we worked on cleaning out stalls for three hours. We're about half done. Every bone in my body hurts.

Catching up with all the farm and house work is the goal this week. There's not much time to write.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Vernal Equinox

Today is the first day of Spring. One of the peach trees is blooming.

Happy Spring!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Chicken TV

Our chicken house is at the base of a hill and the cows are currently in the pasture above.

When I walked into the chicken house yesterday morning, there were cows looking in to each window along the pasture side. Besides the zany chicken antics, I'm sure the grain storage containers were of interest. Well, cows need entertainment as much as anyone.

There are five new calves. Forage is a little hard to get at this time of the year, although the recent rains are encouraging grass growth. I think I'm actually seeing the pastures greening up more each day.

The kidding is going swimmingly, as you can see by the list to the right. I'm running out of barn space and W names! If someone doesn't come up with more female names, there are going to start to be some really goofy ones in the list soon. HELP!

This is the season of iodine-stained fingers; of tired farmers; of nasty ganders; of daffodils; of eggs and calves and kids... Hurrah for Spring and for Chicken TV!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


We're moving right along with the kidding season. Most of the births are routine and the goat mothers do a good job of taking care of their kids. Once in a while, however, we have a little drama.

On the fifth, last Monday, I did the usual routine of taking care of the goats. One of the Boer goats had a nice, big single buckling and it wasn't hard to set her up in the old barn. I went to the new nursery and when I got finished there I just did a visual check of the rest of the herd outside. There was a young doe about as high up on the hill as she could be crying in pain. This was her first birth and it became obvious to me when I looked at the two legs coming out, that this was a breech birth but that the baby was positioned with head down. I sat down on the ground and helped pull the baby out, as it was obvious to me that she couldn't do it herself. (Naturally just as we got to the end, working with her contractions, my cell phone rang in my coat pocket. I didn't answer.)

The baby was wet and there was a cold wind blowing. The little mother had no clue about what was happening and didn't seem to know that this was her baby. I sheltered the baby as well as I could; I didn't have a towel or anything to dry it off with. Rather than walking down the hill and back up again, I decided to try to get them both into the closest barn. Ursula -- the new mother -- didn't want to come, so she kept laying down. The baby was slippery and I was worried about dropping her. It was quite an effort to get them both down. I put the baby into my warming crib, which has gotten a lot of use this season. It is a deep trough with hay, a towel, and a safe heatlamp.

For a day or so, Ursula didn't do much at all with the baby. She licked it a little, but had no milk production at all. I freeze colostrum each year for this sort of scenario and used a baby bottle to give little Wilma some nutrition.

A young fellow named Jason came over that evening and helped nurse Wilma. He also helped feed the mothers and rake out stalls. If he or his wife sees this, I want him to know that Ursula's milk came in late yesterday and baby Wilma is doing fine. Ursula's mothering instincts have kicked in and the two seem devoted to one another.

This morning, we have another single female birth. I named her Wanda.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Goatz iz da kraziest peoplez

Saturday afternoon was mild and sunny. The majority of the goat herd was in the near pasture laying on the grass in the sun. Harvey Llama was in their midst -- a sure sign that more births are imminent. I thought it was a good idea to let the six new mama goats out to get some air.

Come on, girls -- it’ll do you good to get out. The babies will be safe and sound in the nursery barn.
"Oh, no, ma’am! We’re fine here. We don’t want to leave our little bybies for a minute! "

Look, I know you girls are getting cabin fever. Goats normally leave their babies during the day while they graze. I’ve done this before.
"Pleeeeeze don’t make us go!"

It’ll be all right. I’ll go with you, I said, picking up the broom and shooing them out the door.

"Hay, this is our old barn! Look, everything’s just the same as it was. ‘And this is our pasture, and our water buckets… Oh, Ah declare! There’s mah mama, mah sistah and auntie and mah last year’s bybie!" (These are SW Virginia goats.)

I sat on the hill while the herd reunited with the girls. There was a lot of nuzzling and sniffing.

"Mah dear, you're as big as a house, when are you due? Ah’ve got the sweetest twins. They look just like gramma Pearl… "

So, everything was fine. The babies were quiet and safe, so I went on to do some pruning and other work around the farm.

At dinnertime, I expected the moms to be waiting outside the nursery barn. That proved to be wishful thinking. They were in the big barn with the rest of the herd. I grabbed some leads and proceeded to take them across to the nursery.

"What ARE you doin'? We want to stay HERE!"

Are you kidding? (ha) You didn’t want to leave the babies and now you don’t want to go back to them?

"Bybies? What bybies? We don’t know nothing’ ’bout birthin’ no bybies, Miz Scahlet! What do they look like?"

They look like little white puppies with brown markings. Of course you remember them.
"No we don’t! We’re not goin', and you can’t make us! We’ll fall down on the ground and you’ll have to drag us to that barn! Pleeeeze, Miz Scahlet, don’t make us go! "

I escorted each the few yards to the green barn and shoved them in the door.

"Oh, yes! Now we remember! Aren’t they cute? ‘And they DO look like little white puppies. Can we have our supper now?"
I wish they'd stop calling me Miss Scarlet.
Looking for the perfect gift? Look no further: Kow Pies

Friday, March 02, 2007

Holding Pattern

We're at fourteen baby goats and holding as I write this. It's a lot easier to take care of fourteen than forty, so this may be a good time to make a little report for those who are interested.

The five star maternity hotel still has a couple of empty stalls. Each mother has a private space for herself and her babies. They have all settled in.

In the morning, I feed each mother then open the gates and let all out to explore. The babies play, practicing their sideways dance steps and four-footed hopping. The radio is tuned to a classic music station and it often seems they are dancing to the rhythms of whatever music is playing.

As I rake out the spaces, they -- just like human kids -- seem to say, "Oh, boy, a dirtpile! Let's climb it!"

They go to that with gusto and look for other opportunities to test their skills, climbing up on concrete steps and looking for cavelike spaces under tables and behind the refrigerator.

As I fill water buckets and hay racks, I must step carefully as some of the triplets who have received supplemental bottles think that I surely have milk in my legs. They keep trying to figure out where it is. One baby sucked my fingers this morning, eventually deciding that they are utterly useless! They look right, but nothing comes out.

I then sprinkle pine shavings on wet floors and provide extra waste hay for clean bedding. Next, the does are placed back in their individual spaces and babies matched up, using the information written on their paper collars. They are tired out by then, and find cozy napping places. When I leave, all is calm, clean and quiet.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Goat News

The 2007 kidding season has begun at Brambleberry Farm!

I came up for lunch and a little rest at 1:30 p.m. and thought I'd let the world know all about it.

The first thing I heard when entering the barn this morning was the distinctive crying that signals new babies. Simone, a rather thin goat who has only had a single birth in the past surprised me with three decent looking kids -- two females, one male. I did all the normal stuff: feed mama, get her clean water, help dry off the babies since it's chilly; iodine their navels; check sexes; supply hay; clean up afterbirth...

Because they are triplets to a small doe, I also decided to use a bottle of that frozen liquid gold, colostrum, as insurance. I drove up the hill and placed the frozen bottle in some warm water to thaw; finished the animal chores and did a little pruning, then back up for the colostrum and my palm pilot for keeping records.

When the babies were fed and all quiet, I decided to walk up the hilly pasture and check to see what else might be going on. The first thing I saw was Tatum and Harvey Llama alone on the side of the hill with some suspicious looking white lumps on the ground. Tatum was licking off her second kid, female, which had obviously just been born. The cord wasn't yet trimmed off. Meanwhile, the first male kid was being watched over higher up the hill by Harvey. My palm pilot has a camera, so I took some photos.

I gave Harvey, the midwife, a hug and brought the little guy to his mom so that she could tend both as I sat down on the hillside and watched. I guess there's something to be said about being born in the sunshine, but there was a stiff wind, so after she had done the majority of the clean up, I took the babies and lured her down the hill. Since the new nursery barn was closest, I put them in there to dry off. Thank goodness I had spent the morning sweeping up and preparing the little stalls yesterday morning. The tools and junk are still in the barn, but at least there were clean stalls and the hay baskets and feeders.

I did the new baby routine once again and then headed up for lunch. I entered the data about the new births and edited the photos.

In a little while, I'll go out again and roam the hills checking for more births or impending births. I had time to think about names for the triplets. They'll be Wilhelm, Wilhelmina, and Willa. 'Haven't quite decided on the twins' names yet. Rest time is over for this farmer.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day!

I almost forgot!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Letter "W"

No goat babies yet. That's the most frequent question being asked of me lately. If you read this blog regularly, you'll be the first to know.

As a part of getting ready, I've been lining up names starting with the letter W, this season's letter of the alphabet. Did you know that there are lots of male names starting with W, but not that many female names?

I've got Wendy, Whitney, Wynona, Wilma, Wren, Whisper, Willow, Waffles, Winifred,Wanda, Waverly...

I need more "W" names for the girls. Anyone with suggestions, please leave a comment. As soon as the babies start arriving, I'll announce it and list the names along the right hand column.

Meanwhile, weatherwise it isn't pretty. We're getting rain and freezing temperatures overnight -- that lovely combo that makes outdoor activity treacherous.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Create a Bluegrass Song

Winter gettin' you down? Need a little diversion? Go to Virginia's Crooked Road website and create a song for someone special.

Snowy Day Adventure

Tuesday morning’s temperature was 5 degrees F. The wind chill was below zero, and it sure felt like it, especially on my frozen finger tips. During the day, it warmed up and by six p.m. the snowfall started.

There was snow on the ground this morning, something I dread because of the difficulty of getting around to do the animal chores. I waited until about ten a.m. and suited up. I have found that the hand warmer packs I bought at a check-out somewhere are great. They are dry chemicals in little packs which are activated by shaking after being taken out of their foil packets. I placed one in each of my knit mittens and wore knitted gloves. The mittens, which have both a thumb and a forefinger, went over the knitted gloves. Good enough. I know from yesterday that those heat packs will last all day.

My mistake was in miscalculating the amount of snow on the ground. I thought it was only an inch or so and put on my normal “muckies” -- everyday muck shoes, which slip on and off. I should have used my Muck Boots, which would have covered my ankles and the bottoms of my pants. There was actually about four inches of snow on the ground. So, I had warm hands but cold, wet feet before the morning’s chores were done.

Because I knew I might not be able to get back up the hill with my pickup, I drove the Kawasaki Mule down. It is presently covered with the soft enclosure I bought from Cabelas. It fits perfectly and has vinyl windows on four sides. Heavy-duty zippers allow me to get in and out when the weather’s cold and windy. When it first came in the mail, I wondered if I’d just wasted my money, even though it was a tenth of the $3,000.00 that a hard enclosure would have cost. So far, so good. I’m happy to be able to ride around in the rain and snow. If the sun’s out, the enclosure is solar heated and pretty comfortable. The doors can either be rolled up or zipped out when I don’t need protection from the cold.

I did all my rounds and actually got up the hill using the four-wheel drive. That’s all I can ask and am convinced that the Mule was a good buy. I only use about a gallon of gas a week and can go all over the farm without totally overextending myself physically. Going in snow is a wonderful bonus! Another practical problem solved.

This afternoon, I'm staying in. I took a container of homemade applesauce out of the freezer and made two applesauce cakes. When they cool, I'm planning on making browned butter icing for them. One will go in the freezer.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Old Man Moon is the night watchman these days, shining his brilliant light into my room at about 4 a.m. each day. He creeps around corners from the Northwest to the East in the morning, but is obviously in the Eastern sky in early evening. He gets around.

His light was obscured this morning, by snow-laden clouds just waiting to let loose.

At mid-morning, it is gray and sharply cold. There’s no snow yet, although the radio tells me that in various other ridges and valleys the “winter event” is already ongoing. Sleet and another ice storm is reported to be on the agenda for later today.

The weather geeks mostly exaggerate in their predictions, although there have been a few memorable times when they grossly UNDERestimated and we were caught out driving in a serious ice storm that snapped power lines and allowed for numerous vehicle accidents. In some ridge or valley, somewhere in the region, it is safe to say, the weather predictions will be spot on for any given day.

The goats are still baby-less, although some udders are now about as big as they can get. That tells me I better be ready. This morning, I prepared another stall with waste hay and a filled hay feeder, closing and latching the gate behind me to keep it clean until needed. The goat nursery is close to done in the green barn. Gates are up and sides, but the fronts need to be finished before we can clean up and get them in use.

I got the safe heat lamp housing ready and have a plastic bin to use as an emergency warm-up crib. I’ve even figured out where to hang the lamp. An old jacket with a fake lamb’s wool lining is inside the bin for comfort.

The one problem is that I can’t find the long list of great “W” names that my grandson sent last kidding season. It’s got to be around here somewhere…

Friday, January 19, 2007

Camping Cow Capitulates

There was a whole lot of bawlin' goin' on last night, as the cow camping in the woods suddenly decided that she missed her half-grown calf; and vice versa. I guess she had gotten to a place where she could see the rest of the herd and she didn't really like the solitary life all that much.

Anyway -- I tried several techniques to get her to come to me up in the woods. I had a bucket of grain with me, and got her to follow me down the road to the closest gate. Once she got through the gate, she had no interest whatever in the grain. She knew that she now had access to the rest of the cows and went running to them in the pasture. The mother and child reunion was joyful, and there was a whole lot of nursin' goin' on before she dived into the hay and water.

Well, she'll have some nice memories of her vacation to ruminate over...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Secret Lives of Cows

So -- the day you worry about goats having babies, a cow goes and has a new calf. It looks like a heifer and is at least a day old. Mama came steaming up when the baby got upset to have a human trying to look her over. It's a little black Dexter/Angus. Cute, as usual.

I spent part of the afternoon riding around the fenceline, looking for fallen trees. Some (genius) left an old gate to the woods open, so there's a cow living in the woods who has evidently forgotten how she got there. This is the same cow who managed to break into a hay shed last year and get trapped under a round bale. What can I say? She's a free spirit.

The ice storm is on the way. How we'll round her up, I'm not sure. The terrain is too steep and tree-filled to do it with the Mule. It'll be an "on foot" enterprise.

Backwards Weather

Two days ago, a sweatshirt was too hot for working in the garden. It was T-shirt weather.

As of yesterday morning, at 20 degrees F., it was T-shirt, sweatshirt, two pairs of pants, gloves, scarf, and heavy jacket weather. Naturally, the goats are making labor sounds in the barn. We're expecting snow and ice later today, so the chances are good that they will start in for real then.

In this morning's New York Times, Verlyn Klinkenborg recounts his cross-country car trip, where the mideast was flooded and he encountered snow in California.

This morning, I read an article about Walmart selling bogus organic produce, which some of you many be interested in.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Farming and Eminent Domain in Virginia

Here's a story I just read in the New Farm Newsletter about Stoney Lonesome Farm in Gainesville, VA.

It paints a rather bleak, but very realistic story of the struggle of Virginia farmers to continue to exist in rapidly developing areas.

'Seems to me that lack of comprehensive plans which recognize the need for small family farms, especially those that use organic methods, is important in an age of energy crisis. The notion that our nation can be reliant only on huge factory farms and extensive trucking of produce across the nation is muddle-headed hogwash.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ode to the North/West Wind?

...O, thou, Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the spring shall blow
Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:
Wild Spirit, which art moving every where;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, O, hear!

It's bleak, cold, and very windy. The wind woke me several times during the night and has finally died down a little. I can see the snow on the tops of surrounding mountains, but we just have occasional flurries this morning.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Local Agricultural Politics

We interrupt our regular ag blogging to insert some ag political news from the region:

The first hot topic around these parts has to do with the ability of local Virginia wineries to continue to distribute their own wines in the region. It seems that in 2005, a federal judge decided that the VA wineries had to use and pay distributors, as they had an unfair advantage over vintners from other states.

You can read about it, here and here.

When we first purchased this farm, my husband wanted to start a vineyard and winery. We did a lot of research; learned that the topography and altitude was perfect; and took a tour of wineries in the State to learn more.

It seemed to me that the capital outlay would be massive and I was, and still am convinced that grape growing cannot be done organically, so we shelved the idea.

Others in our area have gone ahead, at great expense and labor, to create very nice wineries and steady farm income -- a laudable feat -- only to have the big boot of government come down on them from above. Public opinion seems to be on the side of the farmer/vintners for now, and hopefully, the laws will return to allow self-distribution of Virginia wines. That would promote one solid new agricultural industry in the area and, in effect, protect a lot of agricultural land from development.
The second topic getting a lot of attention in the region is the application of “biosolids” (sewer sludge) on cropland. You can read about it here.

It seems that farmers have the right to do this in Virginia, even though in my opinion it is simply a stupid risk to take on food crops. New federal laws regulating the ocean dumping of sewage seem to be pushing corporations and municipalities to try to find new ways of dealing with sewage disposal. This is a big problem throughout the country and I hope that good solutions will eventually be found. In the meantime, I’m wondering if large flower farms might have better use of the stuff than farmers growing food crops and/or cattle forage.

Now, if they figure out a way to make BIOFUEL out of "biosolids" the problem will be solved!