Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Surfacing At Last

I should be outside... I should be working... I should be cleaning the rabbitry... I should be ordering fencing materials... No, I SHOULD be blogging! Hehe, these are the thoughts that have been swirling around my head since I last gasped out a pathetic blog post. Life has been busy, for sure, but I have been loving it. I'm such a workaholic and I love the changing jobs each day. 

So, what on earth happened to me??? I gave ya'll some teasers and now I suppose I had better spill the beans and fill you in, eh? I figured... Goodness knows if I don't start talking I may have a mass mutiny on my hands as all of you faithful readers trot off to find someone else who updates regularly. Hmm, with that threat in mind methinks I will start my tale now before you get antsy!

Now, where did I leave off...? Oh yes, HEIDI. Y'all read my post about my mischievous goat wrecking the chicken tractor and thus putting me in the predicament of having free range turkeys. I highly despise free range poultry. The turkeys weren't horribly bad whilst they were enjoying their freedom, but it was stressful for me since I literally couldn't leave the property without the fear of them wandering off. My days were punctuated with frequent "turkey herding" whenever they got on the wrong side of the fence. Ugh. I will say this though: Turkeys are mounds easier to catch than chickens. As long as the cow wasn't feeling frisky (and thus spooking said turkeys) I could usually call out a high pitched "Turkeybirds!" "Turkeybirds!" and watch what looked like a flock of velociraptors speeding towards me from the far side of the property. Broilers (meat chickens) don't come when called. 

My new friends from Plowman's Farm (click highlighted words to read their blog!) heard of my poultry plight and immediately set a date to do some building. Step One? We had to gather materials. They were going to build me an authentic Joel Salatin-style chicken tractor that was complete with the metal roof and sides; but where to get that wood and metal? Right across the road from our house, on the neighbor's 98 acres, was a fallen building... Its metal roof gleamed in the sunlight as it lay almost on the ground with the wooden walls squashed beneath it. Bingo. That wasn't an old barn anymore in my sight; it was a chicken tractor. After a couple of phone calls, we had the green light to dismantle the old barn (or shed, or whatever is was back in its heyday!) so we got to it! To be totally honest, I really didn't do any of the hard work for ANY of the chicken tractor building. The guys (my dad and the husband of Plowman's Farm) tore off the roofing and pried off the wood needed for the project; I just shuffled the pieces into a tidy pile and fought with blackberries that woke up grumpy that day. I know, I'm so grand. ;) Just call me "Superwoman".

 Day #1, which was last Monday, was the barn dismantling day. Days 2 through... Hmm, either 3 or 4 were spent constructing the new tractor. The days meld into a blur in my mind... There was so much going on that I can hardly keep it all straight! And once again, I didn't do any of the hard/heavy work during those days. I think the hardest thing I did was make a cherry pie for them as a 'Thank You', and making pies is about as easy as breathing to me. When the chicken tractor was declared finished (save for some chicken wire that needed to be put on top; which I did the next day), I was in awe... What a beautiful beast it was and is. Made of old but sturdy wood, cross braced to withstand an assault of even the orneriest ruminant, and 3/4's of it covered with sheet metal... It looked like I had gone to Polyface and stolen one of their own chicken tractors. And not only is it pretty and functional, but I get a darn nice workout moving it, too! I don't have the wheeled dolly to move this thing yet (I just need to get some wheels!), so I get to use brute strength each day. Thankfully it's not that hard; a summer of lugging 70 gallons of water each day by hand, stacking 100 lb. bales, and dealing with grumpy cows/goats has made me fit for many tasks. My shirt sleeves are starting to get a bit snug actually... [blush]

In the midst of all this tractor building and barn tearing, I still had a dilemma on my hands: Heidi. Since the wrecking of the original tractor, I had some heavy thinking to do about her fate. She was getting to be too much of a handful for me. Heidi really doesn't like to be handmilked, but since I pulled her kids off of her at birth, she and I were forced into the close proximity of milking every single day. Hoo boy. She was giving just over 12 lbs. (one and a half gallons) each day and it HURT so stinking bad to milk her! She has pretty small teats, and my left hand can't take very much stress after I broke it a few years ago. The goats that stay here are always goats that are easy to milk. That's why Sombrita had to leave; my hand couldn't take the stress of milking her and it started going numb. 

 So there I was: Milking Heidi 2x's a day, taking pain killer to combat the inflammation in wrist, and I wasn't even saving the milk. Most of the time she would just put her hoof in the pail, or kick it clean over in the midst of things anyway. In revenge for having the audacity to take her kids away and hand milk her, Heidi pulled a new stunt. She started running from me. I don't know what got into that girl's head but she mastered the art of duck, dodge, and weave in a span of days. Her udder would be achingly full but you might as well try catching the wind than catching her. The other goats watched Heidi zoom out whenever I appeared with the milk pail and what did they start doing? Running with her!!! Heidi taught ALL of my goats to run away! For an entire week I couldn't catch a single goat for milking, so I had to resort to letting them "escape" one at a time. If you leave a gate untied long enough, a goat will eventually nose it open and wander out. So that's what I had to do. I left the gate untied, stood behind the hay stack pretending that I wasn't watching, and had to wait until a goat got curious enough to come out. Milking chores became very loooooong. This was ridiculous; who was running this farm anyway? Me, or the Great White Goat? As far as Heidi was concerned, she was the one playing the cards; I was just the one who shoveled the manure every day. After a week of not being able to handle my goats, I broke down and posted Heidi on Craigslist. I couldn't handle it anymore. I missed having my goats swarming around me in the pen, and having each girl dance out for their turn on the milking stand. Heidi had wrecked two chicken tractors, wrecked an electric fence a few months ago, and now she had wrecked my relationship with the other goats. Darn her. 

After a couple days of her being posted on CL, someone showed interest in her. They were looking for a milking goat so they could feed their bottle calves and Heidi interested them. They wondered if I would consider trading her for a ton of premium alfalfa hay, and after some thought I consented. I've been working on writing a memoir with Heidi as the main character, and here I was trading her for hay... Life is just fickle.

 After Heidi left, peace once again reigned in the pasture... It was almost too quiet. The goats settled back down into the usual routine, there was no more escaping or tractor wrecking, and by Jove this is some mighty fine alfalfa hay! I miss her, yet I don't miss her. She was a grumpy, stubborn, ornery creature, but I loved/hated her for that. Ah well... She's gone now. I am keeping her daughter, Minuette, though and I think she will prove to be a very impressive milker. I'm looking forward to seeing how she freshens next year. 

With the absence of Heidi, I figured my herd numbers were now at a good level. Breeding season is just around the bend and I felt that I had a tolerable number of girls to breed. Ha. I should have known that there's no such thing as having a "closed herd". Some nearby friends needed to sell their purebred, milking, Nubian doe ASAP, and being me, how on earth could I say 'No' to such a fine animal? I have long admired this gal and her pedigree is just stunning; if you know Nubian goats, then the herdname 'Kastdemur's will tell you why I wanted her. Yep, her sire is none other than Kastdemur's Final Encore and she looks just like something from that famous herd... In the end, I traded for this new goat who's name is Lily (Hidden Meadows Encore Lily is her full handle). My friends are getting 5 months worth of raw cow milk, and I got Lily. I love trading. :)

 Lily came on Saturday morning, oozing class and haughtiness. To date, she is the fanciest goat in my herd and I jolly well think she knows it. Tall, powerful, with a beautifully carved form, she sauntered into the pasture; looking down her nose at my "country bumpkin" goats. She makes me think of a city girl who's afraid she might get chicken poop on her high heels. Oh Lily... Welcome to Goat Song Farm, ma' dear. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly when I found something out about her: She is a fence wrecker. The pen inside my barn is made of woven wire and for the last 5 years that has not been a problem. Sure, the goats will stand on the wire and bend it a little; but it wasn't a huge deal and it was a very cheap fencing option. I watched in fascinated horror as Lily walked up to the fence, put her front hooves on the wire and began using her weight to pull the fence down. It looked like she was climbing a ladder as she would raise her feet up a level and then smoosh the fence down more. Once the 4' tall fence was down to a mere 6 inches, she would daintily step over it and begin feasting on the alfalfa hay. She did this 5 times in one hour as I would put her back in the pen, fix the fence and prepare to leave. 

Great... What was I supposed to do now? What I needed was a wooden fence (or the Great Wall of China) so she wouldn't be able to crush it, but I could just see the dollar bills mounting in a project that involved so much wood! In an attempt to discourage her, I leaned some old wooden pallets against the fence on the lowest spot. Wait a minute, wooden pallets? A lightbulb began sparking in this old brain of mine and wheels began turning. Hmmm, would it be possible to treat wooden pallets like miniature livestock panels, and use them to create a new fence? What if I screwed a bunch together and then lashed them to a T-post? I love lightbulb ideas. In the mean time, Lily was housed in the comfy hotel room that is more commonly known around here as "the kidding stall". Her majesty wasn't keen on the confinement but what's a girl to do?

 Yesterday morning I collected some pallets (from the folks who I got Lily from!) and went straight to work. Using a handy dandy drill and some hugely long screws I took what most people consider trash and turned those pallets into a fence. The end result was an extremely sturdy fence that looks like an old fashioned western corral. Folks, I'm trying not to brag here, but I think it's down right beautiful!! I was going to take some pictures of the fence, chicken tractor, and Lily herself, but realized that I don't have the camera right now. Phooey. But pictures are coming, I promise. 

Life has been busy in general around here... The milk herdshares are selling out very steadily, and my friends from Plowman's Farm and I are getting ready to send in our application for the McMinnville Farmer's Market. They want to sell their organic vegetables there, and I want to use the area as a milk drop-point for herdshare members. Fingers crossed that our application is accepted and we get a spot! 

 And of course there are always people who want to come out to the farm to see the place, emails to answer, and projects to finish. I am dog tired every night by the time I go to bed, but I love this life. I love it that every day I'm doing something a little different and I'm able to spend so much time outside. And now that I've done all of this typing, I really should go feed the baby goats!

 Toodle pip and cheerio dear friends! I will try to blog again tomorrow and get back into my daily writing groove!


Illinois Lori said...

Hi Caitlyn! What an glad you got that hay! Sounds like a good trade to me :-) I have to smile whenever I read your stories. Your energy is amazing! The blessing of youth :-) I hope this new city-goat works out better for you! And best wishes for getting into that market!


Anonymous said...

I'll never leave you blog. No worries. Thanks for writing! Sounds like a wonderful life you have, and your new girl is beautiful. Yes please keep up your writing groove!

Contact us at 503-269-3915 said...

I am so looking forward to seeing a pic of your pallet fence!

Mary Ann said...

Whew! Tired just from reading your long post! What a fine new goat you have... and thank heavens you made a great trade for Heidi!