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Madam Christy

 

Stormy, one day old.
Stormy, one day old.

Five long months of waiting. In comparison to the 11 months that alpacas carry their babies for, or even the 9 months that humans do, I guess 5 months is not an unreasonable amount of time to sit around twiddling your thumbs while you wait for a baby goat to arrive. But it sure felt like it.

What I didn’t think about when we first decided that we wanted a dairy goat of our very own, was that we weren’t just signing up for the responsibility of that one animal’s care.  The dairy industry has a cute but demanding by-product.  Babies.  It seems obvious when you think about it- in order for an animal to make milk, she must first become pregnant.  Then she has to carry the baby successfully, deliver the baby, feed the baby and then FINALLY we can (probably) take our share of whatever milk is leftover.

Luckily I didn’t think it through too much before shelling out the cash for the first doe in milk I came across.  (Who, by the way, just so happens to be a perfect fit for us.  Just didn’t want you to take my sarcasm as a statement of disappointment in our choice.  Violet is as sweet as they come. And so is her milk!)

Violet resting in the barn
Violet resting in the barn

Stumbling upon an available doe already in milk, without a wee one sucking her dry, seemed like a perfect opportunity to buy the goat and get the milk for free.  What I didn’t realize was that that milk supply was going to need to be replenished sooner or later.  Most dairy goats are only kept in milk for 10 months out of the year.  They are bred in the fall, while still in milk, and then dried off about half way through their pregnancy so that their bodies can devote all of the energy needed to growing a baby (or 2 or 5). Goats like to multiply.

That meant that we had also just signed up to be breeders. Wait, what?

I was not qualified to be a breeder.  Breeders are supposed to be knowledgable and experienced in the breed that they’re working with.  They’re supposed to have long term goals and gut feelings about pairings that have yet to take place and kids that have yet to be born.  I’m also pretty sure that it’s a requirement to be able to deliver a breech baby with your eyes closed and one hand collecting colostrum before you can officially call yourself a goat breeder. Okay, well, if nothing else, you’re supposed to be breeding with the primary purpose of making more quality animals.  Aren’t you?  I just wanted milk. Crap, I was in over my head.

Although we had had a couple of pet wethers before, we had never had a registered animal, and had most certainly never had plans for breeding. This whole new world of possibilities, choices and responsibility for creating life was overwhelming.

 

Windy working hard at her second job of clearing weeds.
Windy working hard at her second job of clearing weeds.

Things like the careful selection of a sire, tracking heat cycles, transporting the doe to the buck on just the right day (which for me meant calling out of “real” work on “the day”, and driving for 3 hours with a screaming goat the back of my truck), monitoring the pregnancy, making sure vaccines were given at the proper time, helping to deliver the baby (NBD), raising the kid, and then deciding what was to become of the kid after it was raised were all things that I learned about on the fly. Had I stopped to think through all of the details of what our future entailed before I jumped right in, I probably would have frozen with fear and inadequacy on the spot.

But sometimes that’s how you learn best. And it’s certainly how you find out if you want to do it again. For me it was exhilarating. The anticipation, the planning, the not knowing exactly what you would get. I got hooked.

This year I’ve put a lot more thought into a breeding plan and have sought out proper baby daddies for each of our girls ahead of time. (Is that proper goat-breeder terminology? I think so. Probably.) I don’t want to be a backyard breeder cranking out poor quality animals just because I like goat cheese. I respect the level of expertise needed to do this properly and I intend to do the best I can to add useful animals to this world while still being mindful of our ethics and purpose. I know it will be a work in progress as I gain experience and knowledge. But isn’t that what life is all about?

Wish us luck.

 

Stormy, our first baby goat. 2014.
Stormy, our first baby goat. 2014.

 

 

 

The Birds and the Bees

I walked in on something the other day.

It was turkey sex.

Oops- did I just blurt that out without warning?

Okay, here’s a disclaimer. You must be 18+ to read this post.  Or at least have had “the birds and the bees” talk before you go any further.  No, there aren’t any risqué pictures or pornographic descriptions.  But let’s just be up front and say that this is a post about reproduction at it’s most basic level.

So.  There we were.  It was awkward for all of us.

I had just finished my morning routine in the barn and entered the turkey pen to refill their water bucket and make sure that everything was okay.  I do this everyday- smash out the ice that has frozen overnight and pour the remainder of my 5 gallon pail full of water back into it.

Tom Turkey 3 2014

I was thinking that it was strange that none of the turkeys were out and about, as the tom typically greets me at the door, strutting his stuff, with the two ladies not far behind.  I had barely staggered into the shelter when I noticed them.   They were on the ground, just beyond reach of the morning sun’s rays beaming in from the east. The tom was perched atop one of the hens, shifting his weight awkwardly from one foot to the other.  The hen was about as flat as she could get with almost 30 lbs. of poultry on top of her 15 lb. frame.

Now- before I go on, you must know that this is not a regular sight on the farm.  Turkeys are not as prolific as chickens (or rabbits, or goats, or just about any other farm animal.)  They come into season only once per year and are much more private in their “activities” than other animals.  In fact, the Broad Breasted White turkeys that are raised on commercial farms are too large to physically reproduce at all, and must be artificially inseminated.  There is visible sexual dimorphism even in wild turkeys, and the females are sometimes injured when a much heavier male attempts to mount a smaller female.   We’ve had Standard Bronze turkeys for several years now, and one of the reasons we like this breed is because they can reproduce naturally.  But making baby turkeys is no easy task. We made it all the way through breeding/nesting/hatching last year, which means that there was obviously some successful reproduction going on behind the scenes, but I had not witnessed it first hand.

turkey hen

I didn’t know what to do.  Continue with my chores as if I hadn’t seen anything?  Slowly back away and leave them to it?  Pull up a seat and peep on our tom?  But they still needed water.  And hey, this was exciting stuff- I don’t care how weird it sounds for me to admit that I was curious about how it all went down.

So I froze.  I stood very still, not quite making eye contact with either of them, even when they looked back several times to see if I was still there.  The tom continued stepping back and forth on the hen’s back, making some slightly worried noises, almost as if he was fretting about how to continue.  This went on for a good five minutes, and I was starting to wonder if the hen was able to breathe alright under all of that weight.  As much as I wanted baby turkeys, I didn’t want anyone to get hurt in the process.

It seemed pretty obvious that this was new to them.  These turkeys were born last spring and had never gone through a breeding season before.  The courtship was done, the time had come, and neither seemed to know what to do next.  Now it was getting really awkward.

I figured that maybe I was giving them stage fright, and decided to be on my way.  I swapped out the water as quietly as I could and started to back out of the shelter.

And then…he did it.  He left his contribution to the next generation atop her back- where there was no chance of the sperm ever meeting up with a developing egg.  Ever.

Was it a height problem?  An anatomy problem?  An inexperience problem?  I don’t know.  But I do hope they figure it out on their own.  Artificially inseminating a turkey is not on my to-do list.

Turkey rear 3 2014

Since then I’ve been making lots of noise when I approach the pen.  “Hello!  It’s just me…here to change your water!  Hope I’m not interrupting anything…”  I haven’t had any other awkward moments since.

But, there was a little glimmer of hope this week.  A single egg lay in the corner of the shelter, behind an old window.  The light shone through the glass, as if to highlight this first egg as a sign of fertility and potential success.  We added some straw to that corner of the shelter and hoped that it would encourage her to return.  I found another egg there today.  Time will tell if these eggs are fertile, if the hens become broody, and if we will have baby turkeys this spring, after all.

The first turkey egg of 2014
The first turkey egg of 2014

In the meantime, I’ll continue to give the tom a knowing wink and an encouraging nod each time I exit the pen.

Life is Better on the Farm

I didn’t start out as a farm girl.  I like to call myself an import.  That sounds fancier than a wanna-be farmer or a naïve, middle class white girl.  But really, that’s what I am. Or at least that’s who I was.  I grew up as a pretty typical American, I would say.  We had pets (but not animals…I’m told there is a difference), shopped at the grocery store, went to work/school and came home to our family.

I had (and still have) parents who love me and did all that they could to bring me up to be an upstanding, well-educated citizen.  I’ve had some great experiences and have learned a lot about life, love and the world around me as I’ve grown into the current me.  My parents are two of the most important influences I’ll ever have in my life.  I wouldn’t change a thing about the way that I was raised or where I came from.  But that doesn’t mean that that’s where I want my story, or my growth, to end.  And I’m sure they don’t either.

In the more recent years since I’ve become an adult, I’ve become a wife, a mother, an adult daughter (there is most definitely a difference when you add the adult part there), and a professional.  With each new chapter of our lives we learn a little more about ourselves and what type of “wife”, “mother”, “daughter” or “professional” we’re going to be; which subset within those groups we belong to, and which we want no part of. Some times in our lives require us to be more focused on one area or another. But ideally, we want all areas to be fulfilling and meaningful.

We all want our lives to be full of purpose.  That’s the age old question, right?  What is the purpose of life?  Don’t worry- I won’t tell you that I have that one all figured out.  But I have seized the essence of the question and am holding on for dear life.  Literally.

I saw a quote recently that really hit home.

Truth

Living a life of purpose is up to interpretation, in and of itself.  But for me, a life of purpose means finding something that you believe in whole-heartedly and standing behind it in all that you do.  Sometimes that something can change throughout your life.  I know that there are many things that I’ve jumped on board for on and off over the years.

But this whole farming thing is different.  There has been a running theme throughout my maturation that has really stuck with me- which lives are worth living, which lives are worth maintaining, and which lives are worth changing? I think these questions apply to all life forms, and since life is the basis for all else, it’s worth being dramatic about.

#quote #inspiration #people

Being responsible for life and death on our little farm, and witnessing the entire life cycle first-hand, is as close as I’ve come to really understanding the depth of those questions.  Each life (whether plant or animal) has such a unique path that it takes.  There is no way to explain the feeling that comes with watching so many lives in detail.  Except…maybe…living. Having these experiences on the farm has allowed me to cope with, and appreciate, other areas of my life. It magnifies struggles, milestones and celebrations. I think having this little farm has made me a better wife, a better daughter, a better mother and a better professional.

This life of sweat, dirt, blood, exhilaration, sacrifice and thriving- it’s representative of life itself.

I don’t want to be stuck in a cubicle, wrapped up in paperwork, oblivious to the meaning that can be found in all that we do.  I want to be thinking.  I want to be feeling.  I want to be living.

How about you?

This post was shared on The Homesteaders Blog Hop

http://faulkfarmstead.com/2014/03/homesteaders-blog-hop-4/