The Great Goat Roundup of 2018

Today I was called upon to assist in moving our goats. My husband, Brad, built some beautiful new goat barns, and since they were nearing completion, it was time to move the goats to their new homes.

The barns were built for several reasons. The primary one was to provide more separation between the boys and the girls. Last month we caught Mojo, our buck, breeding with crazy Luna, our fast and loose doe, through the fence. Yeah, that’s right. Through. He didn’t even bother to try and jump the fence, he just cozied up to it, found a suitable space, and no matter how many apples Brad hurled at him, he remained unfazed. I, on the other hand, was scarred for life. But that’s a whole other story.

So three barns were built – one complete and the other two will be within a day or two.

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Building crew. Brad and son James. We don’t have a lot of friends.

The first one for the girls, the second one for the babies and to store feed, and the third one for the boys. This gives a buffer zone so that we don’t have accidental breedings like this one, which now means that babies will be born in the dead of winter instead of spring.

Since Mojo has hit every single one of our three does, Brad took down the fencing between all in order to create the new barn and pastures. So they all lived together in one big happy mess – being that they couldn’t do any more damage than they already had. And today was the day that the entire herd of 6  would have to be convinced to move, en masse, out of their pasture, into the barn, out of the barn, up the driveway, across the side road and into an unfamiliar pasture and barn. And Brad was sure the two of us could do it if we tempted them with grain.

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Yes, Baby Ruth, I know. I had the same look when Brad told me it would be easy.

I know I’ve mentioned it before. Goats go where goats go. They are not like cows. They are not like horses. They are not like dogs. They are entities unto themselves. And unless you plan on physically picking them up and carrying them, they are moving only when they want to move and only where.

When the barn door opened and we unlocked the pens, it seemed easy. They all ambled out, looking a bit dazed. First off, two of the 6, Cinnamon and Pepper, were born right there in that same barn. Three of the others – Mojo, Buddy and Luna, were there since they were just past toddler stage. And Baby Ruth (don’t make fun of her name – her Mom was Reese’s and her Dad was Skittles) arrived 6 months ago as a baby. So this was home for as long as they could remember.

Out from the pasture, into the barn, out of the barn – that part went smoothly. Brad had a bucket of grain, I was to lead the way, open the gate to the pasture, and when he went in, I’d close the gate after him. Done and done.

Not done.

I was trying to walk fast, with purpose, but had goats running behind me trying to get their heads in the scoop of grain. Whilst I was determined to get them all into the pasture as quickly as possible, I also knew that if I did anything foolish, like run, I would inevitably step in a hole, twist my ankle, and end up with 24 full grown hooves on top of my body, breaking something important that I would probably need sometime in the future.

We did, finally, get them in. I was tasked with “keeping them occupied” while Brad filled up their water basins. Keep them occupied? How? Did they want a song? A story? No, Brad handed me both the grain bins. Ok. Picture with me, a 5’5″ woman balancing 2 grain buckets with goats that, if standing on their hind legs would reach over Brad, who’s 6’4″. And you can’t just move out of the way. Noooo. They are shoving and butting and trying to grab the buckets out of my hand. I ended up throwing them over the fence and scooting out the gate before they noticed.

Then Brad and I realized – 5 goats in, 1 still out. Crazy Luna.

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Me, move? Not happening.

If goats are stubborn, Luna is unyielding. And she decided she’d rather not. Not do anything like anyone else. Buck Mojo was getting anxious, as his main squeeze was not with the herd. Everyone was a bit tense, and I just wanted to get back to the house to eat the pizza we made for lunch.

Brad’s plan was for me to be inside the gate, wait until he coaxed Luna right up to the gate, at which point I’d open it, he’d shove her in, and all would be right with the world.

He coaxed Luna, I stood by the door, unlocked it and Mojo made a mad dash for the opening. I tried to grab him, but he’s big and buff and while I had a hand on him, he bumped me to the side, I stumbled, and grabbed the fence. The electric fence

electrified

A jolt  went from my hand, down my back, up my neck, through my other arm, to my hand and right onto Mojo’s back. He jumped, I screamed, he ran, Brad shoved. He slammed the gate, turned to me and I waited to see his concerned look, for I was sure he was awash in worry about  my well being.

He looked at me and said, “well, at least we know the fence works.”

pitchfork murder

The Point System

“You have to do something with all that milk.” That’s what I heard first thing this morning when my husband, Brad, opened the refrigerator door. That’s what I heard before I drank my first cup of coffee, brushed my teeth or even looked in the mirror. Although recently the mirror has not been kind so I’ve skipped that early morning ritual.

To his credit, we DID have a ton of goat milk in the refrigerator. I count 5 gallons of milk in the fridge, and packs of milk in the freezer to make 2600 bars of goat’s milk soap.

“We have too much because YOU are not doing anything with them.” And, before coffee, at times like this, I want to open a gallon and pour it over his head. Again, no coffee, plus reprimands, makes me have serial killer eyes. Unfortunately, the crazy eye look seems to go right over his head. Otherwise, why would he keep asking me questions? Especially when I have a pot of hot coffee in my hands?

So, I’ve decided to allocate points. Based on what we do, and whether we like it.

We have this agreement, Brad and I. He mainly tackles the outside jobs. The stuff I find either taxing or repulsive. I handle the inside jobs, INCLUDING the jobs that I find both taxing and repulsive. He cleans poop outside – all brands and all sizes – goat, rabbit, chicken – and I handle the poop inside – 3 bathrooms, 2 that are used by Air BnB guests and seem to be cleaned almost every other day at times. Neither of us enjoy these jobs. So it’s a wash. HAHA. Yes, literally.

He spends a lot of time on his riding lawnmower/tractor. I know he mows the lawn, but what else he does on his John Deere, I can’t imagine. I know he moves dirt, moves poop, moves compost. He rides it to the neighbors to ostensibly talk about farm stuff.

And please don’t write and tell me this isn’t a John Deere. I know it’s not a John Deere. Reluctant Farmgirl, remember? This is the only picture I have of him on a tractor, and it was his first one. Stop bugging me about it.

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I spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. He loves to ride the lawnmower, I enjoy cooking, but cleaning? Not so much. So I get one point. Or a half. I do get annoyed that we eat three meals a day. Seems like every time I clean the kitchen, it’s close to time to make yet another meal. When we both worked, breakfast was on the go, lunch was at work, and all I had to really think about was dinner. Now it’s a constant aggravation to think of something for 3 meals a day. With the Air Bnb, I’m also planning guest meals and executing with my usual charm and grace. So yeah, I’ll take the full point on that.

Brad feeds the worms in the worm bin, and distributes his “worm tea” to the different compost areas. Which I find repulsive. But he doesn’t so he doesn’t get the point. I wash the laundry for us and for the guests. I don’t like doing this, so I’ll take the point.

Brad makes stuff. He loves woodworking. I make soap. I love making soap. It’s a win-win for both of us.  However, he does have to help me with a few steps, but he doesn’t hate it so I won’t even mention that. And my soaps are legendary …

He walks the fences and mends when needed. He hates walking the fences. That’s an assumption on my part because Loose Luna, one of our does, seems to always find herself in the boy’s pen. She was in the boys’ field twice this week, prancing around and switching her little tail in front of our buck, Mojo. She really is the slut of the neighborhood. Me, I hate dusting which, with two Air Bnb Rooms, I do every couple of days. And our house is almost 3,000 square feet, so there’s a lot to hate. Another wash.

Brad’s major hate is trimming the goat hooves. And he’s also not fond of going down to milk the goats every morning and evening. He has this nice little milking machine, which I would gladly do, but it needs electricity to work. The goat barn is a quarter mile from the house, so it requires a generator for power. And if my life depended upon it, I could not start that pull start generator. Seriously. If I was down at the barn, solo, and needed power to save myself, I would just sit down and cry. I don’t have the upper body strength or stamina to pull that cord hard enough to make it start. I would be more capable of ripping my own arm out and beating myself with it, than starting that generator. So, if he would replace it with one that maybe starts with a button, I would happily go down and do the milking. He gets the point for that one, but with transgressions.

I do all the marketing, writing, reservations, sales for the farm. I love it. It’s what I am trained to do and what I’ve done my whole life. He readies the garden, I help with the planting and harvesting. And I do the cooking and freezing of stuff, and he does the canning. Mainly because I am scared to death that I’m going to kill someone if left to my own devises. I’ll do it but we both agree I shouldn’t handle a pressure cooker, at least not unsupervised.

So, when he says to me that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing with the goat milk, which means making more cheese that we could possibly eat, I think to myself, OK. We have enough milk stored up for the next zombie apocalypse. Why don’t we just let the two does dry up? Give them a break. If Loose Luna scored two days ago, in 5 months we’ll be knee deep in milk all over again. That makes sense, right?

Well, I’m sitting here complaining to y’all because in the fridge is the makings of cheese. I’m supposed to be making cheese. I’m supposed to be doing this while Brad is picking up a third doe we purchased last month with the profit from selling the 3 babies that were born in February. Which means if all three does get lucky,  we will have 6 babies to bottle feed, and 3 does to milk and even more milk in the fridge and freezer. If I make cheese out of 5 gallons of milk, and we eat that cheese, my butt will grow so big it will be a gravity defying feat just to stand up.

And if I make the easy cheese – ricotta – then I’ll be tasked with making homemade raviolis. Which are the bomb (do they still say that?). But are a half day’s worth of work. So I’d make them for lunch and hope that Brad eats enough so he doesn’t want dinner. Which, by the way, never happens. He says “oh, I won’t need dinner” and I think “thank God. I don’t have to cook.” But then 7 o’clock rolls around and he says “were you thinking of anything for dinner?”

And you know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking yes. I’m thinking yes, I do have an idea for dinner. Why don’t you take a big glass, fill it with fresh goat’s milk, and get back to me in the morning.DSC_0486

Dirt Cheap

You’d think by now I would not be surprised by anything my husband could come up with. I mean, it’s been 32 years together. There’s not much we don’t know about each other. Yet, he continually amazes me with the great lengths he will go to, to find a bargain.

We’ve driven an hour just to pick up an old table. Granted, it was free, and granted, with that one table (and 4 matching chairs) he managed to make a farmhouse style clock, a coffee bar and a living room coffee table. Not to mention a new dining room table (with new top).

But for the better part of the week, he’s driven back and forth every day, most of the day, picking up dirt. “But, it’s free!” he said.  And I’m thinking, dirt? It’s free? And that’s a revelation?

We have dirt here. We have 16 acres of dirt. Some is under grass, some is under trees, some is just sitting there. We now have additional mounds of dirt, to add to the mounds of dirt he has when he had the pond dug. I’m not sure what all this new dirt means to me, or what it is supposed to magically do, that the old dirt hasn’t done in the past four years.

The exciting part (I guess) is that today the “free man” gave Brad the use of his trailer thing. This was met with great joy, and so I had to surreptitiously sneak out of the house to photograph this stunning achievement:

It was definitely a Kodak moment. The piles of dirt have made their way from down the bottom of the driveway, to within throwing distance of the front door.

“It’s fill dirt” Brad said, with that look that says “why can’t she see the obvious?”

And I admit. I can’t. See the obvious, that is. All I see are mounds of things. There are mounds of sawdust waiting to become something, I’m sure. There are mounds of compost. There are mounds of poop, categorized by type. Yesterday I had to look at a mound to admire all the worms.

I took on chickens. I took on ducks. I took on goats and even pigs. The mounds, however, confound me. Brad has promised these mounds will accomplish great things. I am to anticipate a joyous event when I see these mounds turn into barns and driveways and landscape art. Yes, it shall be monumental. Behold what I shall do with a week’s worth of mound transportation.

I think I’ll make myself my own mound. Of chocolate chip cookies. Those, I’m sure, I can figure out how to move. And it won’t take a week, or a trailer, to do it.

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Never Can Say Goodbye

I’m kind of a sucker. I like to talk tough, but when it comes down to it, I have a hard time letting go.

I love my chickens. I do. When we first put them in their outside pen, we set up lawn chairs so we could drink coffee and watch them every morning. Nerdy? Yeah. Did the neighbors think we were a bit mad? Oh, yeah.

So this winter, when they stopped laying, Brad came to me and said “it’s time to get rid of the birds. I refuse to pay for food if they’re not going to produce. You better talk to them.”

My birds? MY birds? Never. I didn’t care whether they were only laying 4 eggs instead of the 12-18 we were normally getting daily. They were MY BIRDS. Every morning I’d head down to their coop, calling “hello ladies, I have breakfast for you” and proudly carry something special from Mom’s kitchen. They crowded around the edge of the pen, little wings clapping in glee, waiting for the shredded zucchini, Mom’s special pasta salad leftovers, maybe some home cooked oatmeal, or sautéed barley flakes or simmered cracked wheat. They loved me.

AA - flock of hens

Brad is a bit more pragmatic. So my girls were sold to a family who would appreciate 4-6 eggs a day. They thought it was quite grand. I, however, was heartbroken.

A week later Brad found a new flock, so away we went to pick up newer, younger, better ladies for my coop. They were unlike my girls, as we didn’t raise them from 4 day old chicks. They were still too young to lay, but in a matter of a few months, they would start producing and we would then, once again, put out our “Farm Fresh Eggs for Sale” sign.

They’re nice. We even inherited a rooster. Which so far as worked out well as he is not free and unfettered in the pasture. And if he starts looking at me funny, I can back out of the pen and slam the door. In theory, all should be right with the world.

It’s not. They don’t get me. My first girls got me. Everything I brought down was manna from heaven. These new ladies don’t seem to understand. They were formerly only fed dried, leftover bread for treats. So you’d think that when I brought down my angel hair pasta with wild mint sauce their eyes would roll around their heads in sheer bliss. No, they look at me with their chicken eyes as like I’d lost too many brain cells. And wait for dried bread bits.

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I’m in mourning. I’m an Italian for crying out loud! I can’t feed dried bread to chickens as if it’s a true treat? How can this relationship mature? They don’t drop when I walk in, and they don’t let me pet them. They actually peck at my fingers when I place their food on their special treat tray. They run away when I try to pick them up and kiss the tops of their little heads. It’s like my idea of the entire species has turned on it’s head.

This morning I walked down to their pens. I unceremoniously plopped some of my legendary cranberry nut muffins, and bits and pieces of fruit from breakfast. Kept walking our driveway, and decided that, since it wasn’t raining, I’d get in steps on my Fitbit. Waved to the goats, hand-fed Henrietta (our senior chicken who hangs with the goats and no longer lays, but is a welcome member of the farm), and took my stroll down the road.

Came back up and stopped. There were the new ladies, all lined up on the side of the pen, waiting for me to return. And – for all that is holy – they ate every bit and piece that I left them. I opened the pen door to get the special treat tray, and they clustered around LIKE THEY LOVED  ME!

And, sure enough, EGGS were in the coop. Beautiful brown eggs. I smiled. The world was no longer tilted on it’s axis. Black was not white. Up was not down. The chickens loved me. I can live to see another day.

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I Don’t Need a Man. And I’m lying.

Inevitably the dog poo hits the fan when my husband leaves the farm for any longer than a few hours. And leaves me in charge. I’m best behind the keys of a computer – it’s my wheelhouse. But I can sub in for Farm Boy any old day. And after all, it’s only for 4 days. I’m a wildly independent woman. Strong and intelligent and capable.

I’m on day two. And it’s not pretty.

Yesterday morning the pregnant goat, Luna, got loose. Turned over lawn chairs, opened the large container with chicken scratch and proceeded to down half the bin. Brad had a makeshift patch in the fence, and Luna got down on her knees and crawled out. To goats, chicken scratch is like catnip. It must be. Because I know it would have taken a lot for me to crawl on all fours when I was pregnant. I tried to mend the fence with dental floss, my go-to fix it all, but as soon as I walked away, down on her knees she went and shimmied under the fence. Thank God for neighbor Bob who fixed the fence, or she would have been wandering the streets like the hussy she is.

A Luna

Last night I went down to collect eggs, give the chickens some treats, and feed the goats their second feeding of the day. I walked the quarter mile down the drive to the pens and goat barn, swinging my colorful egg basket I got at the swap meet from some lovely gentlemen weavers from Ghana.

For some reason, our lovely, happy, laid back rooster, Black Bart, took a turn towards bi-polar land. When he saw me his neck feathers stuck out a foot and he launched himself at my basket. And this rooster has developed those razor sharp spurs on the backs of his legs.

I have to admit that roosters scare the shit out of me. They have those rooster eyes. They look at you and size you up and decide, nah, she’s no threat, I’m going to mess with her big time. And they don’t do it to your face. There’s no frontal attack, it’s always right out of eyesight that all of a sudden ten pounds of feather and muscle launches itself at you, and all you can hope is that you can outrun an angry rooster. Which I can’t. I can’t outrun anything. Most ants run faster than I do.

I had no option but to pull up my bloomers and get the job done. I hurled the basket, which the rooster then followed (screw the lovely colorful Ghana basket, he can have it!) ran down to the goat barn, shut the door, and started getting the hay ready for the goats. I first threw the chicken scratch out for the chickens, thinking they’d all be oblivious to me as they dug into their dandy treats.

Black Bart, usually obsessed with chicken scratch, decided that I was a much more fun target. He ran under the electric fence, around the barn and into the goat pens. The pens I had to get into to put the hay into the feeder. He crowed at me and belligerently stood by the feeder, and whenever I’d go close, the feathers would go up.

I had to sidle up to the feeder and shove the hay into the feeder sideways, keeping my eye always on the rooster. Because of this, I didn’t hold the door shut, and out goes the pregnant goat, straight to the chicken scratch bin.

If you’ve ever tried to move a goat somewhere where they don’t want to go, you’ll know. It’s not something I would wish on anyone. It’s not like a dog, or a cat, or even a horse or cow. You have to physically shove them, and they dig in their little hooves and duck their heads and it’s more like a bad wrestling match but with much more drama.

I had to also put the hay over the girls pen into the boys pen and feeder. I don’t normally go into the boys pen because, well, boys will be boys and I’ve learned that it’s not safe to turn your back on boys. I learned that a long time ago, but having bucks sort of cemented it in my mind. So while the rooster is launching himself at me, and I’m screaming and tossing hay everywhere, and trying to hide behind the goats (yeah, it really was that pitiful) all three of the goats decide to make their great escape.

Hauling one goat around is one thing. Trying to corral three is another. One goes in, you grab the other, and the one that’s in goes back out. I couldn’t latch the door because if I let go of one to unlatch the door, she’d take off in the other direction. And, again, they’re not like dogs. You can’t shame them. Goats are shame-less. You can tell them no, you can pinch their little ears, they flip their heads, leap and kick up their heels and do exactly what they want to do.

goat jumping

While I’m dragging about 3 goats, the 2 bucks are standing on their hind legs, hooves on the pen gate, watching in rapt attention. Hell, that was much better than the hay I gave them. I could see them thinking – wow, where’s the popcorn?

So this morning I vowed to change things up. Get a handle on it. I boiled up a dozen eggs. Crunched them up, and DROVE down to the chickens and goats. Tossed the eggs on the ground – chickens loved it. Fed the grain to the goats, goats loved it. All’s right in the world. It is no longer tilted on it’s axis. I can do this.

I did bring my weapon of mass destruction just in case …

IMAG2329Yes, I know, it’s a small broom. But when properly applied, with a general sweeping circular motion about my body, I can ward off nasty roosters and maintain my sanity.

So tonight I went down. I had it covered. Brought my broom, DROVE down (quicker escape and that way I dont’ have to run, in my ugg boots, a quarter mile up my driveway), opened the barn door, got the chicken scratch the tossed it out. Chickens AND roosters seemed quite happy. Laid the broom inside the barn, and started on the hay.

Got the hay in both hands, started shoving it in the feeder. I close the pen door, but can’t latch it. It requires 2 hands (lift the door, slide the latch over) and both were full of hay. And yes, once again, Luna nudges the door open and heads for the chicken scratch pail.

I did figure out how Brad does it – 6’4″. That’s how he does it. He can simultaneously shove hay into the feeder while holding the door shut with 6’4″ leg. I’m 5’5″ on a very good day. I’d have to detach my leg to get it to reach. Not only that, if I actually had to stand on one leg and shove hay down into a feeder I’d probably end up on the ground. Permanently.

So I shoved the hay, went to grab Luna only to find that she not only opened the corn bin, but was INSIDE it. Head and front legs. I couldn’t get her out. I couldn’t reach her head it was so far into the corn bits. So I had to tug on her long neck, which just caused her to produce a kind of gross barfing sound.

I finally hauled her out of the bin, shoved her into the pen, locked it, grabbed more feed for the boys pen, unlocked the pen, put the hay down, locked it again, and shoved the feed into the boys feeder. DONE.

I turned to unlock the pen door leading to the barn, ready to shove eggs in my pocket and make my way to the car when I see him. Staring me down, inside the barn.

black-australorp-rooster

I’m stuck in the pen. The broom I left outside the pen. I had enough to navigate with the hay, without having to add a broom to the mix. For all that is holy, will someone please get rid of this spawn of Satan?

Not sure whether to just surrender, sit on a hay bale and cry, or act like an adult. While the former was preferable, I am logical enough to realize that I don’t want to spend the next two days inside the goat pen. So I grabbed a wad of hay and threw it at the rooster. He ran out, squawking, I ran out the barn door to my car (with my broom) left the eggs in the egg nest and drove home.

My neck and low back hurts from hauling (and lifting) a pregnant goat. I have hay in my bra. I have two days left. Two days and four feeds. And I’m not quite sure I’ll make it.

Permaculture … on steroids

When my daughter’s fiancé visited us several years back, he made the proclamation … “what you have here, is permaculture.” Being city girl turned reluctant farmgirl,  I had to Google it to see what exactly it was. Wasn’t sure if he was praising our efforts, or swearing at us.

Turns out, yes, we are a family of permaculturists.  When I take on things, I tend to do it with a passion. Brad, disagrees. He says it’s not passion, it’s a freakish obsession to go overboard. With everything. We started with 10 chickens and now have 80. Two goats became six. Although, in my defense, two pigs became freezer fodder, so there is that. And we added six ducks, but that was the neighbor’s fault. Entirely. She bought the ducklings for us.

So it stands to reason that after Jomar  introduced me to a new concept that I would embrace it wholeheartedly. And really, we are quite magnificent when it comes to creating as little, if not zero, excess waste as humanly possible.

Walk with me, if you will, as I take you through our moderately messy, incredibly efficient, immorally time consuming and slightly perfect piece of recycling nirvana.

A bit of a warning. As I said, I get passionate about things. It started with mild composting. But I tend to have a charming neurosis (small, tiny, miniscule, not-getting-in-the-way-of everyday-living neurosis) that drives me to excel at things and be “one of the best.” Except sports. Not happening. Never. I mean, I am the best “walk and talk for 3 miles every couple of days” person I know. But that’s it.

So … the tour begins in my kitchen which is the heart, and start, of the permaculture process. Under my sink is a big stainless steel bowl which is used for collecting bits and pieces – anything from the sink drain catcher thing, anything that hens or goats or roosters shouldn’t eat. We don’t have a garbage disposal, so anything caught in the strainer goes into the bowl. Once that’s filled, it goes down to the compost pile and becomes rich earth. Coffee grounds, on the other hand, are collected by Brad and, together with newspaper, gets fed to his worms. I don’t go there. Ever. It’s not even in the same country as my wheelhouse.

I also have 2 Tupperware bins that sit on my counter. One is for the meat birds, the other for the active laying hens. Different things go into different bins. For the layers, they get pretty much anything with the exception of onions and garlic. As you can see, they like it. They like everything.

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The second Tupperware is for the meat birds. I’m more picky about that. They don’t get things like cabbage, Brussel sprouts or any strong flavored veggies. They get more mildly flavored treats – apple bits, carrot tops, bread crumbs, leftover oatmeal, mild flavored veggies. We sell both eggs and the meat birds, so we are careful about what might end up flavoring both. Well, I’m careful, Brad not so much. Which is why I’m in charge. And why our meat birds rock.

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If the eggs we collect happen to be cracked, that gets cooked up for the dogs. Egg shells get collected in a bowl and when I have enough, I toss them in the oven to toast them a bit, crumble them and put them in the hens food. It’s a good source of calcium and helps strengthen their egg shells.

Meat, fish, etc  gets divied up between the dogs and chickens. Yes, oddly enough, chickens eat meat. Chickens are not vegetarians. Getting eggs in the store from chickens who are “only fed vegetarian” is stupid. Chickens scratch in the ground for worms and slugs and eat insects. So don’t waste your money. Goats, however, are strictly vegetarian. Go figure.

And now we come to bones. Brad and I went to a naturopath, who prescribed we both drink bone broth. And she explained that it was what Vietnamese Pho was based on. Not able to find any bone broth in our local stores, I did what I do – I researched. Now I’m a bone broth pro. bone-brothThe best bone broth is found at my house. Seriously.  My freezer holds several gallon ziplock freezer bags. In these bags are leftover vegetables – the ends of the onions, the skins, the tops of celery, the stems of cilantro. Anything I don’t use or feed the chickens, I put in there. The other bag holds bones. With the exception of fish bones, every single bone in every single piece of meat I cook is in this bag. When you come for dinner at my house, you won’t be given a chicken thigh or leg to munch on. I’ll be cutting the meat off the bone for you, just like your mamma used to do.

When the bag is full enough, I toss all the bones and veggies in my crock pot. I cook it for at least 2 days, with some bay leaves, kosher salt, some whole spices (whatever I have on hand – peppercorns, fennel seeds, whatever herbs are in the garden or in the freezer). The bones turn very soft during this time, and turns the water into a flavorful broth that I bottle and freeze and use for a soup base, for cooking rice, for flavoring sauces. I always have the shelves in my stand-alone freezer full of bone broth. AND – after the bones are all cooked down and mushy, those go into the compost pile as well.

By the way, the reason I wrote out the bone broth recipe is, for some ungodly reason, Brad seems to think I could be the next Pioneer Woman. He insists I write down everything I cook (mostly because I can’t remember what I did so that I could recreate the meal again). Then he thinks my blog can turn into a blog not only about composting or permaculture, but about recipes, someone will “discover me”, we’ll be rich and not have to worry about our retirement. HAHAHAHA.No.

We collect slugs in the garden and bring them down to the duck pond. Veggie leftovers from the plantation get tossed into the goat’s pen. The big sunflowers feed the wild jays, swallows, yellow finches. And, if you want a goat to follow you till the ends of the earth, you carry a handful in your pocket and dole them out. You’ll have a friend for life.sassy

Some things are not good for animals – like potato skins. You’d think I’d just toss them, but I’m no longer a “tosser.” I cook the potato peelings for the chickens. I cook up raw chicken skins for the dogs. .

The kitchen is obviously the most interesting and vital part of the composting/recycling process. Brad does the other stuff. Leaf mulching and chopping  and burning and spreading ashes. It’s not as cool as a slimy bowl of gummy veggies under my sink, or delicately sautéed potato peels. So I won’t go into graphic detail. But I do invite you up to our farm and dare you to find one scrap that isn’t used for some purpose. Even the goat and chicken poop is meticulously collected. Nothing like a steaming pile of … well, you get the idea.

It’s a circle of life, my friends, a beautiful little circle of life.

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Not Feeling the Rooster Love…

If you know me, you know I love my chickens. It’s like potato chips. I can’t stop getting chickens. When I walk into the farm store and see those fluffy little bodies, I know that I NEED at least 6 or 8 more.

In spring we purchased what was called a “straight run.” We did this because they were so darned cute, and so darned cheap. Straight run meant that you get what you get. You may get hens, you may get roosters, but there’s no guarantee as they aren’t sexed beforehand.

Out of the 20 or 30 chickens we got, 3 were roosters. And what magnificent roosters they turned out to be. Lovely, regal glistening black boys with almost iridescent plumage. I walked down every day with my basket of goodies, my egg apron, and chatted with Rooster Cogburn, Black Bart, and Brett Maverick. We communed. And I loved them.

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Two weeks ago I bounced my way down to the coop to say hi to the brood. Called the boys by name, and with over 30 hens, don’t have the energy or creativity to give them their own personal monikers, so just normally shout “Girls, I have some treats for you!” All of a sudden, something bashed into the back of my shoe. I turned around and just saw chicken eyes. Nobody said anything, nobody did anything and I figured that because I was in the middle of the mosh pit, someone inadvertently stumbled into me. Hard.

A few days passed and I was down at the goat pens bending over trying to fill up water buckets and out of the corner of my eye, a mass of black feathers came hurling at me, slamming into my right knee with claws out. What the hell? What did I ever do? I wasn’t even looking at him. I was just bending over turning on a water faucet.

I pulled out my chicken books, took to the internet, researching why my precious baby would turn on me like that. One site said that roosters may not like your shoes. So I changed my shoes. Still wary, I made my morning stroll to collect eggs. Black Bart gave me the “rooster eye” but I spoke sweetly to him, promised to throw out some corn scratch and passed by with no incidence. The operative words being “passed by.” As soon as my back was turned, I glanced over my shoulder to see Bart with his neck feathers  on high alert, and with wings flapping, as he started running after me.

I have to say, I just don’t run. It’s just not a good look for me. And I’m not the most graceful  or coordinated athlete.But run I did, like a screaming banshee up the driveway (the long, uphill through gravel 1/4 mile driveway) stumbling and looking over my shoulder, yelling for my husband to rescue me from the beak of death.

My husband, being ever so supportive, said ‘why don’t you just kick him out of the way? That’s what I do.”

Seriously?  A whirling dervish of midnight black feathers, crowing beak and talons drawn comes flying at the back of me and I’m supposed to #1 actually see him coming from behind and #2 try to spin around and kick him? When I had to pay soccer in junior high PE I missed kicking the ball. Every. Single. Time. What makes him think I could actually hit a moving target that can also fly? Aside from the obvious, I’m not big on using my body to ward off anything. I mean, I can’t even kill a bug by stepping on it. I have to physically remove my shoe and hit at with the shoe not attached to my foot. I get grossed out swatting at a fly with my hand. Yeah, I’m a girly girl. And not apologizing one bit for it.

“That’s it” Brad proclaimed. “I can’t have you scared to go down to the chicken pasture. I have too much to do already. The rooster is going to be butchered tomorrow.”

Oh no. Nonononono. I would work something out. I searched the house for an appropriate anti-rooster defensive weapon and spied a small chimney broom. Perfect! I would simply circle the area around me, front and back, with the broom to create a sort of rooster safety zone. After all, I’m an intelligent, college-educated person. I can come up with a solution. Putting a chicken in the pot is akin to hitting control-alt-delete on the computer. It’s the last resort. And I’m too savvy for that.

Roosters are not stupid creatures. The broom worked somewhat, but I would have to swat at him constantly, always walking in circles because he’d flank me, and I was afraid to stand still. If I did, he’d charge. So I had to hop around, spinning the broom in one hand while I simultaneously opened up the nest boxes and held the lids open with my head while collecting the eggs with my other hand. All the while swooshing the broom and screaming.

After two weeks, I decided, OK, this is NOT working and I’m NOT going back down there. I’m over it. Done. Not only that, but he was also being aggressive with my sweet little hens. The most popular of which bore a huge bald spot on her head. I guess no means no, except if you’re a rooster. So … RIP Black Bart …

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It was bittersweet. It was nice knowing you, but you just had to go.

Yesterday I gleefully walked to the mailbox, passing the chickens strolling the property. They always run up to greet me, and cheerfully I asked how their day was going. They were all smiling their little chicken smiles, Rooster Cogburn and Brett Maverick joining along. I passed the crowd, down the end of the drive, and heard a scrambling of feet which sounded more like a charging herd. Turned to look and saw the dust flying and … the neck feathers of a rooster up in attack mode, charging after me.

Holy shit! We convicted the wrong criminal!  I felt SO guilty. I’m a pacifist! What did we do?

It’s been 4 days and I’m dealing with it. Especially since Brad turned him into some mean (pun intended) tamales. I guess I can live with myself. Pass the napkins, please.

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I do not “Heart” Composting

I remember, quite clearly, a day in my 20s. I was driving, windows down, my 20-year-old thick long hair whipping around my head, sitting next to Karen, my best friend in the world as we headed down the 101 – from Hollywood to Malibu on another getaway weekend. We had the radio cranked up to the Golden Oldies, feeling that we would never be anything but the glorious, sparkly, glowing creatures we were at that exact moment.

We swore out loud that we would never, ever settle. I remember saying,”I don’t care what happens, I will always live in the city. I’d rather have a one-room flat in the city, then a mansion in the suburbs.”

Then I married Brad. I’m not going to say that our views were diametrically opposite. I wasn’t Hillary, he wasn’t Donald. But – while I was happily driving on the freeways of life, Brad was looking to take that country road home.

Brad wanted to buy a house. As in, you own it yourself. And all I could say was “Not even on a good day. If you buy a house, and the toilet breaks, you have to fix it yourself!”

You see, to me that is the worst of all possibilities. Your stove breaks? No problem. The baseboards in the bathroom are rotting? No problem. So many ants in the kitchen that they start walking away with the cutlery? Again, no problem. All of which, by the way, have happened in rentals in which I’ve dwelled. But having your toilet break down? That’s a big no, good buddy. And without the ability to march into the manager’s office and demand an immediate fix? Big problem. Not happening.

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Would never happen in a rental!

 

It happened. We bought a house – but it was in the city-proper. And, amazingly enough, the toilet remained intact for the 10 or so years we lived there. But with home ownership came a set of rules. Because, after all, it was ours. And we had to maintain it. No more “I think I’ll move because the windows are dirty and I don’t wash windows.” No more “oh, well, the bird ate the curtains, I guess I won’t get my security deposit back.” I was now tasked with crossing over into adulthood. A step that I was ill prepared to take. But one that Brad relished with gusto. And an enthusiasm I just couldn’t muster.

One day Brad walked in and ceremoniously placed an empty Maxwell House coffee container on the kitchen counter. “What’s that?” I asked. Suspicious, as always. “This is for the compost.” Uh-huh. Well, I knew what compost was, just didn’t really think it applied to me. I have a green thumb when it comes to houseplants, but I have my Miracle-gro. Works great, thanks anyway. I didn’t really care for a coffee can sitting on my fine, imitation wood Formica countertop.

But I gave it the old “one for the gipper.” Unfortunately, Brad’s idea of composting and mine were, in this case, diametrically opposite.

I watched the Food Network. I appreciated that chefs kept a nice big bowl next to them wh

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Compost. Need I say more?

ere their unused food scraps went. So that was okay. As long as it went away. Immediately. Brad’s idea was to ignore the coffee can as it stood on the counter, days on end, until it became a quivering mass of indecipherable glob that, once you opened the lid, induced the immediate gag reflex.

 

Truth be told, I didn’t compost. I said I did, but I didn’t. Brad would say “where’s the compost” and I would cheerfully reply “we don’t waste anymore. I use EVERYTHING for soup!” When in fact, as soon as he left the house, I shoved everything down the garbage disposal.

Since that time we’ve moved on. We created “Foggy Mountain Farm” – aka the Reluctant Farm – and composting has taken a new meaning, because we have a septic system and because of this, there is no handy garbage disposal. So EVERYTHING that isn’t edible becomes compost. And that compost is now a combination of what will decay and provide us with essential nutrients for our garden, and stuff that our totally free-ranged, pasture-raised chickens will inevitably peck through and consume with great relish.

Because I am who I am, a writer/journalist, I research. So I know things. And what I know is that chickens, unlike what Brad wants to believe, will not just “peck through what they want and leave the rest.” I know that avocados, are bad for chickens. I know that garlic, and onions, and Brussel sprouts can make their eggs taste odd. I know you can’t put egg shells in the compost without either cleaning each one out carefully, or popping them in the oven to dry. Because that, my friends, will cause chickens to cannibalize their eggs. Once they taste yolk it’s all over.

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Bad chicken! Bad!

Brad is many things. A former engineer-chiropractor-now farm boy, but never, ever a researcher. Or one who checks things first. Unfortunately that means  he also doesn’t believe me when I tell him – “DON”T put that in the compost. It will make the chickens eggs taste funny then nobody will buy the eggs from us, and we’ll both have to go and get jobs working for someone else. And we both know we are too odd for that. Nobody else can tolerate us for any length of time.” It’s true. We have about a 2 hour use-by time stamp. And people start staring longingly at the door, planning their escape dialog.

Basically, Brad ignores me. He just dumps everything into the compost bowl under the sink, saying “For God sakes, Susan, the chickens will be FINE.” So, like a sleeper agent who’s been activated,  I have to dig through the compost when he’s not looking, to pull out the onion skins, the raw broccoli stems, the tops of the chives, and pick through the rotted salad for specks of cauliflower. Then hide it all under paper towels in the trash so he can’t say I’m being “ridiculous.”

So when I say I don’t love composting, it’s kind of an understatement. I hate it. I hate the smell. I hate the slimy feel. I hate having it sit there, overflowing, growing moss and mold underneath, until I finally have to grab it and put it on the side steps so Brad will either A. step right into it in his socks or B. finally decide it’s time to pick it up, put it in the back of his tractor, and drive it away from my kitchen.

I was the girl who wore cute shoes. Who danced with handsome men at midnight. Who’s greatest skill, aside from writing, was knowing how to find the best restaurants, and innately knew how to order the best thing on the menu. I was That Girl. And now I’m Compost Girl. Picking through trash and sniffing bits of tomato to be sure there’s no speck of avocado clinging to the skins.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen …

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trouble with Piglets

My refrigerator is full of eggs. Lovely, organic eggs. But really, that’s all we can fit. I have about 18 eggs coming every day. I’ve thought of making quiches and freezing them, but why? I mean, why bother freezing them when I can make several fresh ones daily and not even make a dent. So we’ve just hung a sign outside our drive to hawk our “farm fresh eggs.” Which I guess means I can’t wear my fuzzy lounge pants all day anymore, and I”ll actually have to start brushing my hair in the morning. Otherwise, my husband is afraid I’ll scare potential customers away.

To go with all those lovely eggs, Brad has suggested we get some pigs. Bacon or sausage to go with scrambled or over easy.

So we went to a pig farm, and brought home two piglets. With a stern reprimand from Brad, that these are “meat, not pets.”

He says this because my 20 chickens are egg producing pets. They shall never find their way into my pot. So I am not to develop any kind of relationship with our “meat pigs.” “Do not engage in any kind of pet-based activity Susan. Because these will NEVER be pets.”

“I’m not stupid. I understand. I’m not going to get attached to pigs, for God sakes.”

 But, you know, I HAVE to feed them. Yes, they get grains. But I have to also bring them by snacks. Stuff that is left over. After all, we are sustainable. We don’t waste anything. It’s all about recycling, reducing, reusing. So, with that in mind, I brought down some tomatoes that were on the edge of rotting. I didn’t look the piglets in the eyes. I simply plopped a metal bowl in the pen, brushed off my hands, and said ‘there. Go eat.” And walked smartly away.

This went on for a week. Then I noticed something. The damn things were actually looking forward to my daily visits. They would no longer eat scraps that Brad tossed into their pen. They only wanted food fed to them by me, in their silver bowl.

And, I realized, they were no longer running away from me when I went into the pen. They were walking with me. And I committed a capital offense. I looked them in the eye.

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OMG are they the cutest things ever? They run around like little dogs, so excited to see me. The run in circles, clicking up their little hooves in joy. And they wait for me to put down their almost rotten tomatoes, so gleeful that I’m giving them treats.

So today I made them oatmeal, soaked in a little goat milk, with some chopped apples and a bit of flax seed for omega 3s. I mean, yes, their lives with us is only a short 6 months, but shouldn’t they experience daily joy for those 6 months? Really?

And, then, I pet them. They let me pet them. Between their little twitching ears, as their little piglet curly tails wagged back and forth.

I’m totally, unequivocally screwed. And I don’t know how I”m going to tell Brad

I’m SUCH a Nerd!

Wandering around the coop, my husband said to me … “it’s about time these damn chickens start laying some eggs and earn their keep. Otherwise, they are going to find their way onto the barbecue grill!”

I thought this was quite insensitive. I mean, what was HE doing at 4 months old? Blowing spit bubbles and pooping himself. “Well you know they are probably nervous and stressed. They see you stomping around threatening to turn them into tomorrow’s special, and it makes them anxious. And besides, my chickens are my entertainment. I pick them up and pet them and watch as they clap their little wings when I feed them pasta salad.”

It’s true. When he told me that all 20 chickens would probably not produce eggs all the time, and some would have to become stew or chicken stock, I understood. “This is a farm – it’s not a chicken retirement home.” I know the circle of life. I like Elton John and all, but he MUST also understand that there were one or two chickens that would live with us until their last feather dropped. And those were the two chickens who would automatically lay down by my feet waiting to be pet, picked up and loved. Who would climb on my back when I bent over.

Brad agreed – and went to get the tags so we could sort out which ones would live out their entire lives with us here at Reluctant Farm.

But a funny thing happened between that discussion and the day when we went to get the leg tags. I walked into the chicken run, and the chickens dropped at my feet. Not just my two little black and white barred rocks, but some whites, some Rhode Island Reds, and two more barred rocks. It was like they were all overcome with the vapors. And that’s when I realized … Chickens KNOW. They are spiritually, emotionally and soulfully connected to Mother Earth. Chickens know things we will never be able to grasp. And that’s when I said realized – we WILL become the first ever chook retirement home.

After this assurance to my girls, a few weeks later we did our normal routine of checking in the nest boxes. Starting at one end, counting – nope, nope, nope, nope … then all of a sudden – the skies opened and a golden egg appeared – not from a goose, but from my favorite barred rock chicken!

I swear, you would have thought Ed McMahon himself rose from the grave and knocked on my front porch with the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes check for $1 million dollars. In fact, if he was on my doorstep I would have run him over looking for my camera to take a picture of our very first egg.

I think I took more pictures of that first egg than I took when my first baby was born. I had to get it from different angles …

Cupped in my hand to make it look bigger …

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In my Indian woven basket as an art piece …

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Nestled in a kitchen towel for effect …

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We were so excited we immediately scrambled it up for breakfast and shared one tiny egg between us.

When we’d run down every day to the coop to see if we have any other little gems waiting for us, there would be anywhere from 3-5 eggs daily. It’s the miracle of life!

The chickens were obviously not as moved about the whole experience as I am. Most of the time they seem a bit irritated that I keep raising the lids on the next boxes. They look at me and I’m sure they’re thinking … “hey, do you mind? I’m doing my business here? Can’t a hen get herself some privacy?”

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I kinda felt like I had caught someone in a compromising position in an outhouse. I’d say “oh, sorry” and back away.

So I skipped to my lou yesterday, with my egg basket, only to find SEVEN eggs. Seven. It was a new record! But now I have this …

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Yep, 20 eggs. And this is AFTER I gave a dozen to the neighbor. And BEFORE I go down to the coop this morning.

Now every morning Brad asks me “do you want me to make some eggs for breakfast?” And after omelets, scrambled eggs and three quiches, I’m a big egged-out.

I’m thinking of making a couple of angel food cakes. Maybe some soufflés. Lemon curd? Or maybe I’ll just leave a dozen on various doorstep and run away. Like a farm girl version of Kris Kringle.

With the eggs, the copious amount of swiss chard, tomatoes and cucumbers that are sitting on my kitchen counter, awaiting culinary creativity I just can’t seem to muster, I think I will, perhaps, drive to the city, see a movie, preferably a double feature, eat Baby Ruth and popcorn. Then when I come back it may all be a hazy memory.

Or a recurring nightmare, like the one where I can never find my house, or am sitting in my 8th grade classroom naked. Either way, there is no escaping Reluctant Farm.