end of the 2011 year

snow goats

I take a shower once every five days or so. Hate showers, and I’m trying to be resourceful with water. Today, as I brushed my hair smooth after toweling, I heard Metallika yelling. I forgot her on the milkstand. Whoops.

All 3 of the big momma goats are pregnant, growing alien kids in their bellies. This year the preggers seem extraordinarily huge. They did meet up with stud boy one month earlier than in previous years, but I don’t remember them ever being so big this early in their gestation.

To make sure their developing fetuses are getting enough nourishment, I have been bringing the hugely pregnant out for grain every other day or so. The stud boy buck, Walter, is such a selfish jerk that I can’t feed grain unless I plan on sacrificing it all to him, which he does not need. One at a time, I let the big mommas back to the milk stand for about 10 minutes of unharrassed private eating time. We’re all through milking for the year, but they know where to go, as soon as I open the gate. They jump up on the platform and I lock them into the stancion to deter any wandering notions.

Desti, a scrapper of a skinny Nubian, went first to the milkstand/snacking area. She was given to me 4 years ago by a woman who had named her “Destiny” but then couldn’t keep her. Desti’s belly has really exploded in size, and she is normally voracious. Today she was not her grain-hogging self and barely had any interest in coming out to eat. Noted. Sometimes does develop ketosis at odd times in their pregnancy, due to so much calcium being used up by the unborn. If she’s still like this tomorrow, I’ll have to do something. Desti is my most questionable goat, with odd behaviors and seemingly borderline health, it’s always something with her.

May went up next, she’s grown into one of my favorites, despite her being half Saanen. Very sweet and even tempered with me, May is the queen bitch to the other does. She never kicks at the milk bucket, gives copious amounts of lovely milk, and her thick coat’s color is elephant ivory. She has an infinitely curious look on her face, with little black polka dots on her muzzle. May is not shy about eating, and as she horsed down the kelp and rye, I did chores and watered the ducklings.

Metallika was last to chowdown. She is what you’d call my senior doe, as I have had her the longest, she is pregant for the 5th time in her 6 years. I just love her, such an intelligent, calm goat, who is also a wonderful milker. With her LaMancha nubbin ears, I think she kind of looks like ET. Normally Metallika eats her ration at her own slow pace, so figured I could sneak off to take my shower while she did. With the winter’s arrival, and these ravenous fetuses inside her belly, her appetite has increased apparently, and she finished more quickly than usual. Metallika can loudly complain, her yell a mix of dairy cow moo and human moan. I slipped on my hard-bottom slippers and jeans, threw on my hoodie, covering my wet hair. As I brought her back to the goat shed, through our new snow path, wet cold fluff snuck around my bare heels and into my slippers. I kicked the goat’s water bucket to break the ice forming on top, watching Walter lord over the hay manger, as usual.

ebb & flow

It’s an awesome time of year, when the paths get iced up, variously slick & crunchy. I love chores in winter, love bundling up, chin tucked into my giant scarf as I lug buckets of water around to the animals. Having distinct work to do in the cold has a unique thrill, it keeps you warm and moving.

This morning everything on the farm was coated with crystals. The plastic of the hoophouse has swirly paisley shapes encrusted on the inside, vaporized duck breath. I suddenly realized how few chores there are right now. Am I in shock after the madness of summer 2011? During the summer, we had so much tending to do, sooooo much! Fewer chores during the winter is allowing us to have time to see things around here with fresh eyes, go for more walks and spend our energy planning for the spring to come.

Slimming down the roster of animals around has made the biggest difference in chores. The animals raised through winter are our long term relationships, our milk and egg providers. The animals raised for meat, who blessed us with their presence during the summer, allow us to continue to live here and feed the other animals through the winter.

We had a major mental breakthrough yesterday about the new duck house placement, and I am so thrilled. What we decided to do means alot of additional work for our spring. However, you must not look at your initial setup as permanent, without risking getting stuck in a poorly designed system. When we moved here late summer 2010, we had to get things & paddocks put up quickly, and now we see it was not ideal. This took quite some time to realize, but having our minds opened by some free time, clear views offered as the trees lose their foliage brought forth the view of our farm canvas. Farm as art.

In permaculture design, you look at the land in terms of zones. Zone 1 is the area nearest to where you live and frequent most. It’s where you spend most of your time. At our place, our Zone 1 is awkward, since our house sits on the corner of the property. Ideally you’d have a large swath all around your house that is Zone 1. We can’t move our house, obviously, but we can revisit how our Zone 1 is utilized. This area is where we have the base of operations, where most of the feeding & watering of the animals is done. We’re going to move the goats out of the core of Zone 1, and put our new duck house there. Previously we were planning to site this building on the only remaining flat stretch, which was far enough away I’d say it was Zone 2.

Zone 2 is the next ring out. That is where our gardens will be in 2012, where we had the pigs working the soil for us this season. They did a great job clearing the roots out, rooting, fertilizing and pig-a-tilling the soil. After they moved from each patch, we followed behind with soil building and topsoil holding cover crops. In spring, we’ll be rototilling the cover crop in, smoothing and preparing our new beds there. Having our gardens in Zone 2 makes alot of sense, as it’s close by, but not right in the middle of all the activity.

Our garden placement this past season was in probably in Zone 4 or 5!!! The “field garden” was a long walk away from our home base, which made watering the seedlings out there very difficult, and the distance a deterrent to go all the way out there. If all we did was raise vegetables, it’d be a different story, but with all the animals back in Zone 1, we were constantly having to make the long journey back and forth from field to home, to make sure everyone was watered and ok. Kind of insane-making, and an inefficient use of our time. A long walk does make for good physical fitness though……..

mom

I hope you all have had some Happy Holidays! Christmas is not an easy time for me. I’ve mentioned my mom before, her influence on my life. The Holiday season is when I miss her most and really feel her absence. Since she died 4 summers ago, our family has not been the same. My Mom was the common bond for us, making holidays a reason to enjoy getting together. Thank god I’ve been so kindly ushered into the fold of Andrew’s family, they are just wonderful people.

My Mom is the reason I am farming today. I have her to thank for implanting an awe of the natural world, a passion for getting one’s hands dirty and feeling the total satisfaction of working with soil, plants and animals. On our South Dakota hobby farm, as a 5 year old, I recall with beautiful nostalgia the day when she butchered chickens near the front porch, beneath the box elder tree. My mom was a homesteader, like so many from the late 70’s. She didn’t just talk it though, Mom actually milked her own goats, made cheese, raised chickens, and grew an abundance of vegetables form her own garden. When I struck out on my own tiny plot of land, she nurtured me in my own homesteading venture. We had regular Saturday phone chats to talk about all that I was attempting on my little farmette.  My Mom witnessed her passion evolving in her daughter, as I transformed from a homesteader to an almost farmer. I wanted it so bad, it hurt. She was so very supportive and excited for all I was about to do.

God I miss her………….I wish she could see where I am now. I do believe that you can be in touch with the dead, but I don’t want to be hokey about it. Mom is gone, I feel her around me sometimes, but it is memories that flood my eyes with tears. I miss our regular chats and her visits out to my old place, where she’d snuggle my very own baby goats and savor pizza topped with my own homemade goat mozzarella.

She never knew this place I now call home. She never met Andrew or got to see how extremely happy he makes me, and what a wonderful partner he is. I know she would just love him! It hurts to lose someone so dear, no matter what role they play in your life. Love your dear ones, as much as you can, while you can.

I got this deep dish cast iron pan from her, it’s called a “chicken fryer.” It’s a killer cast iron, drawing compliments from those who know this awesome cookware. Basically a skillet with very high sides to hold a copious amount of oil for frying. With great pleasure I fried my first chicken in this special pan, after our first chicken harvesting this summer. She was there in my mind, coaxing me along as I made the thick batter, coated the chicken pieces and immersed them in the hot lard/olive oil. Wish she could have tasted the totally succulent morsels of amazing crunchy richness. Maybe she did vicariously.

Tonight I am using her chicken fryer pan for a rabbit dish. With the birth of our first rabbit kits, the end is always in sight. We appropriately went to learn last week about how rabbits are harvested. Our neighbor Cris had a litter of bunnies who were ready for harvesting at about 12 weeks old, and we went over to help and learn how it is done. She not only shared the experience and learning, but sent us home with one of the dressed bunnies in a ziplock bag, which has sat in the fridge until tonight.

You cut up the rabbit, put it in a large skillet with 1 lb ground pork ( I used some of Rosie’s salt pork which I minced up finely) 1 cup beer ( I was rather heavy handed with this,) 1/4 cup cider vinegar ( I used homemade wine vinegar) some lemon juice, pork stock, caraway seeds and black pepper. I threw in some onion, the minced rabbit liver, heart and kidneys too. It’s simmering right now and smells decadent. Mom’s “chicken fryer” being put to use is such an awesome tribute to her. She never raised rabbits for meat, but I know she would have if she had the opportunity. Here’s to you Momma Lou!

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