Friday, March 28, 2014

New Kids on the Block... err, Farm.

Kidding is officially over! I'm a little sad that the birthing excitement is over for the year, but at the same time, I'm looking forward to sleeping again.

In order of appearance, here are this year's babies:

Out of Liberty -

Elsa, (standing on the right) a dainty but playful little girl. She keeps sneaking through the hole in the wall for the barn cats to get into the hay loft, and then getting stuck. She's quite the little explorer, and is always making her mama call for her.  Elsa will be staying here with us, as I promised The Oldest she could keep one of Liberty's babies if she had a girl.

Olaf is her brother, and would prefer to lay in someone's lap most of the day under the heat lamp. He's plenty strong and healthy... he's just a lover.

Out of Aurora -

This is Sven. We missed his birth by an hour or so, and Aurora, being a first time mom, didn't quite know what to do. As a result, she still isn't sure why poor Sven keeps following her around, and she isn't letting him nurse unless I make her stand for it. But Sven is one persistent little guy! He just won't give up. And despite his slightly rough start he is happy and playful and doesn't let it get him down. He has a pretty color that is nearly impossible to catch on film in a barn, but it's sort of white peppered with a chocolatey brown color.

Out of Justice -

This is Fiona. She's the quiet one of the two, mild mannered and a bit shy. She has a stripe around her middle that makes her look a little like an Oreo cookie. Her hair is a bit longer than the others and has some curl to it. I'm kind of hoping she doesn't outgrow it. (These girls are only a few hours old in these pictures, as they were just born this morning - hence the reason they look a little scraggly still.)

And this is Felicity, full of pep and playfulness even at only a few hours old. She was bouncing within half an hour of her birth, and has continued to do so, all morning. She's curious and friendly and is a very cheerful little girl. 

Now the fun begins - nothing is more entertaining that baby goats romping and playing with one another!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Baby Season: The Good and the Not-So-Good

It has been an emotionally exhausting couple of weeks. And physically exhausting, actually.

Baby season is the most exciting time of year at our house. We wait with intense anticipation of the arrival of baby critters and the overwhelming beauty of each birth is just incredible. There isn't any better experience.

But along with the perfect, sweet, cuddly little babies comes much stress.

For the past two weeks, I've been going out every four hours to check on the barn animals, making sure no one is in labor. And yes, that includes through the night. Add to that the fact that when I wake up at night, and it takes me at least an hour to go back to sleep, and you've got one very tired mama.

After Clara Belle was born, learning to milk a cow was added to my daily list of chores. And while Mae is an amazing, gentle little cow, milking is still not coming easily. It's physically exhausting, being constantly ready to jump out of the way of a kick while simultaneously holding a bucket with one hand, milking with the other, and standing in a tense squatting position the whole time. And I do it every morning and every night. 

While the vet was out today checking test results for Mae (so far, she's healthy) he noticed that Clara Belle has some blood in her stool. She's acting healthy and rambunctious, so he didn't feel it was necessary to treat her for anything yet, and just told me to watch her. Let me tell ya, watching a baby cow for signs of illness is a worrisome thing to do. Especially when you know it could potentially be very dangerous.

Then, yesterday, our little goat Aurora had her first kid... and we weren't here for it. We got home about an hour after he was born, I'm guessing, and she had already decided she had no use for him. He tries to nurse, she butts him away. She didn't clean him at all, and pretty much refuses to acknowledge that he even exists. This means I'm going out every two hours during the day to hold her still while he nurses, and every three hours at night. Yes, we could just bottle feed him, but I'd really like to get her to accept him and I'm not quite ready to give up yet.

While the farrier was out today, trimming the horse's hooves, he mentioned that Angel, Chloe's horse, is really starting to show her age. Her feet are growing uneven, which means she's not putting her weight flat on them. That, apparently, is a sign of arthritis. He said to watch her while Chloe is riding, and if she trips and stumbles very often, it's a sign that she needs to retire from running and only walk. He also reminded me that with a horse her age, we should always be on the lookout for another horse to replace her, as she could die any time. I know that's fact - she's an old girl, but hearing it, today, wasn't exactly what I needed. I love that horse dearly, and hate the thought of losing her.

And in between all of this, I'm still trying to homeschool two kids, start a garden's worth of plants indoors and out, and keep up with general housewife duties like laundry and dishes and cooking decent meals. (At this point, I'm failing. We've been eating boxed macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and oranges. The laundry is piling up, I finally washed two days' worth of dishes today, and my house looks like no one has cleaned it in two weeks... because, well, they haven't.)

So we have one more goat to birth, and then this craziness will be done. I've some faith that she'll do well, as she was a fantastic mother last year and birthed with no problems, but at this point, I'm a little nervous, wondering what else can go wrong. I do love this time of year, love getting to experience all these amazing things with my girls, but sometimes the stress gets to be a little much. And the lack of sleep certainly isn't helping.

So here's looking to next week - hopefully a week with no troubles, healthy animals, happy babies, and some full nights of sleep!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ah, Blessed Goat Hormones

Goats are funny little creatures. They are also - I have to admit - my favorite here on our little farmstead. I know so many folks who really despise goats, but honestly, I adore them. They are full of personality, love, and endless pranks to keep you on your toes.

Remember Liberty, the Crazy Goat? Perhaps the idea of me, running helter skelter over a small mountain chasing after a psychotic goat will jog your memory? Having to fetch her from the neighbor's house, half a mile down the road? Indeed, that was a rough time. Her being our first goat, I decided then and there I was NOT cut out to be a goat owner, that all goat owners were masochistic, and as it turns out, dairy isn't really all that important in a person's diet. At least, not ours.

Seriously. It was rough. She's never been a friendly goat. Even now - a year and a half later - she's not the friendliest. She'll let me pet her, but she isn't one to demand attention like the other two. She doesn't (ever) talk to me, she is skittish if you try to approach her. She's definitely not what I'd call "tame".

The strange thing, though, is that of our three milking does, she is my absolute favorite. Maybe because demanding isn't my favorite character trait? And she certainly has no intention of ever needing anything from me - ever.

It happened when she had her first kids, last year. She wasn't the greatest mom in the world, but we worked through that. But here's the surprising bit - it turns out that Crazy Goat is actually a natural milker. First time on the stanchion, and there she stood. Just stood! Silly goat won't let us touch her on a regular basis, but we can take all the milk from her udder that we please, and she won't complain in the slightest!

Fast forward to this year: she still doesn't really care to have me pet her. At all. Like, runs in circles around the stall to get away from me. Unless I have treats. Treats are really helpful. But yeah -she's still a wild little goat, and her use for humans is pretty minimal. Give her food, give her water, then go away.

But the moment those two, sweet little babies were out of her and nursing, she turns into this adorable, loving little goat. Twelve hours after birth, I put her on the stanchion. All she needs is to hear the milk room open and she is racing for it, on the stanchion, head locked in place and happily munching grain. And then - and I'm so not joking - she actually bent her knees out to give me better access to her udder! Seriously, Liberty the Crazy Goat was standing there, knees cocked out, so I could milk more comfortably.

This silly little goat is proof - it doesn't take a perfectly tame goat to make an incredible milker. She gave me a pint of colostrum*, and had plenty more, and didn't even so much as wiggle the whole time. And as soon as she was off the stanchion, she was content to have me go away and leave her be.

It was nice - relaxing and just milking a goat I know so well - especially after spending the last week attempting to milk a cow (which deserves it's own blog post, but I'm still waiting to see humor in it.) We both just settled in, did what we do, and were done.

So, ye with Wild Goats - don't sell yourself (or them) short. It just might be that they are exactly what you need them to be.

*Colostrum: the first milk, full of antibodies and absolutely imperative for kid goat survival. Turns out, some goats produce a lot extra. I steal what I think is reasonable and freeze it, in the event that I have another babe that might need it. I'm living in constant fear that one of our does is going to have triplets (she is wider than she is long) and having some extra colostrum on hand makes me feel a little better.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sweet Clara Belle

When we bought Mae, my milk cow, we were told she was due in September. And then September came and went, and it was clear she was nowhere near calving.

And then October passed... and November, and December. By January, I was convinced she would be pregnant for the rest of her life. Or that she wasn't pregnant at all, and all the signs were just some sort of cow phantom pregnancy. But then a couple of weeks ago, I noticed some bigger changes - her udder was fuller, her backside looked... well, like she might be getting closer to calving. (Which would make sense. Obviously she wasn't get further away.)

And then came the happy day, when Littlest One, came running inside saying, "Mom!! Mae's got a big string of mucus hanging out of her backside! It's all the way to her ankles!" (And it briefly registered in my brain that this wasn't a 'normal' thing for a six year old to say.)

Indeed, it turns out she was in the early stages of labor. Six hours later, she was in active labor, and the girls and I were lucky enough to witness it.  Nothing - absolutely nothing - is as amazing as witnessing a birth. It doesn't matter if it is animal or human or if you've been there for a dozen of them. Everything about it is miraculous, and perfect. Especially when nothing goes wrong. And thankfully, nothing did. In fact, it was really a pretty easy birth, only about 20 minutes from start to finish, two pushes and the babe was out. (Of course, it's easy for me to say it was easy. I wasn't the one pushing. This time.)

It was beautiful. As soon as the calf was out, Mae jumped up and started licking. And licking, and licking, and licking. And then when I got close, she licked my jeans for awhile. And oh, how I wish you could all hear her. She sweetest, softest little "moos" - just like a human mama would speak sweetly and gently to her babe, this mama cow talked to her calf. I didn't get all teary-eyed until I heard that sweet sound. It was instant, undeniable, absolutely pure and true love.

Fifteen minutes later, the little calf was up and standing. Err, well, wobbling. There was much wobbling going on. But it wasn't long before babe was nursing, and mama was calm and relaxed.

Having read - repeatedly - the tendency for sweet, gentle cows to turn into demon spawn once they calve, in an attempt to protect their calf from harm, I was a little leery of climbing into the stall with her to check things out. But some things must be done. And in this case, they must be done in relative darkness. First things first  - did we have a heifer or bull calf? Considering it was a black calf lying in the darkest corner of the barn with a protective mama  hovering, figuring that out wasn't all too easy. Or certain. I felt for boy parts, and couldn't feel any... so I went to bed hoping I was right and it was a girl. I checked again three times before I'd let myself believe it - it's a GIRL!!

Oh, how I wanted a girl. Yes, a boy would fill the freezer. But a girl means we can keep her. And breed her! And have more baby cows to love! Yes, for these past many months, I've been hoping beyond hope that Mae would have a girl, and she did. And - truth - I still feel every time I go out there, making sure the boy parts weren't just hiding for the past 24 hours.

Turns out Mae really isn't demon spawn. In fact, she doesn't seem to mind my being in the stall with her and Clara Belle. (Do you have any idea how long I've wanted a cow named Clara Belle?) I still won't put myself between mama and baby, and I won't put myself in a corner where she could kill me if she really felt like it, but she is pretty content with me being around. And little Clara Belle is so sweet and friendly and interested in me. And then she looks at me, with those big eyes and those loooong eyelashes, and my heart melts all over again.... yeah.

So I was up all night, between checking to make sure little Clara was still doing alright, and laying in bed feeling giddy because I officially have a milk cow - that is really in milk. Of course, that doesn't mean I can actually milk her yet, seeing as she's never been milked before. But that's a story for a different post.

For now, I'll just get another cup of coffee and head back out to the barn to watch our sweet little calf hop all around. And for now, I'll be the happiest farm-girl in the world.

I'm sharing this post over at Mama Kautz's Front Porch Friday Blog Hop!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

March 1 - Signs of Spring

March first.

The weather has been tricking us lately, making us think spring is closer than it likely really is. Spring doesn't come early in the mountains.

But with the past week being in the mid-fifties and higher, the snow has been melting so fast we can nearly watch it disappear. What was solid white just two weeks ago is now a brown-green lawn, grass matted flat against the earth from the weight of the months of snow. But even then, you can see little green blades standing tall, reaching toward the sun, trying to keep warm.

The garden is visible now - not entirely thawed, but almost. I hadn't walked through it since the first heavy snow in December. The soil is still soaked from the melted snow, but life can be seen if one looks close enough. The oregano and thyme and parsley are already green and growing, and little cilantro sprouts were tucked in beneath a thin layer of icy slush. The strawberry leaves are lifting themselves from the soil, and the tiniest leaf-buds speckle the apple trees we planted last year. It makes me glad to know they survived the winter. It was a cold one. A row of turnips I never got around to harvesting is still there - turnips now the size of softballs. I wonder if the cow would like one chopped up for a snack.

The animals all know spring is coming, too. The chickens have finally come out of their winter break from laying, and the egg basket on the kitchen counter is filling rapidly after being nearly empty the past several months. The cow and the goats' bellies are round as barrels, all expected to give birth sometime this month. We all daydream in anticipation of baby animals to play with and of fresh milk to drink again. Even the ducks seem to know spring is here, the drakes courting the hens with much enthusiasm. The puppy is permanently muddy up her elbows from all the exploring she has been doing lately, and the horses are happily wandering the hill again, looking for green bits here and there to munch on after having only hay all winter long.

The days are longer now - chores can be done during daylight hours at both morning and night, something I appreciate. I've never loved doing chores in the dark. There was a flock of sixteen robins scattered across the lawn this morning, hopping around looking for bugs in the grass. The dog is scolded each time he chases them away - he still can't understand why we appreciate him chasing away the magpies, but wish he'd leave the robins alone. Last week we saw a pair of bluebirds checking out one of the nesting boxes. Not too much longer, and we'll be able to hear the baby birds tucked deep inside, one of our favorite discoveries each spring.

It's been a long winter. Perhaps not really that long, but it's felt long. It's nice to know it's finally waning, to start dreaming of kid goats and pipping turkey poults and the coming rodeos and haying and harvesting of fresh vegetables....

Of course, it's easy to imagine all of those things, while forgetting just how much impending work must be done to get there.

But no matter. Work, in the spring, doesn't really feel like work!