Saturday, May 31, 2008

One Local Summer: Week 1

This is the first week of the One Local Summer Challenge, hosted by Nicole at Farm to Philly this year. I had wanted to participate last year, but chose not to because of our zero mile focus rather than just 100 mile radius. I had loads of fun with the Dark Days of Winter challenge though, so when the OLS challenge popped back up again this year, I jumped at it.

Dark Days helped me realize how much we still rely on ingredients outside the farm for cooking. A reality check to my zero mile smugness. So, for this season too I'll be shooting for zero mile meals, though I'll be excluding grains again because I cannot source them locally. I planted my own quinoa this year though, along with oats and, soon, amaranth, so that stipulation may change come the dark days of this year.

This week we had a nearly zero mile meal: pasta salad with lettuce, radishes and green onions from our garden, topped with a balsamic vinaigrette, grilled baby pork tenderloin from one of our piglets, and homemade ciabatta bread. I'm working on making more of our pasta from scratch as well as trying my hand at cheese making now that we have our cow. I'll be confined to soft cheeses for a while until I get my cheese press, but I have a lot of basic learning to do before delving into artisinal cheeses.

Friday, May 30, 2008

What's the sound a cow makes?

video

That's not the sound a cow makes!


video


Now, that's the sound a cow makes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Independence Days Week 4

This has been a slow week between allergies, out of town guests and rain. I didn't get nearly as much done as I would have liked. Oh, and getting the cow this weekend kinda blew lots of other projects as well, especially since Jim spent yesterday morning restretching a fence he hadn't planned on doing. But it's all good and everything will get done in its own time.

Plant:
Helped Julia plant her garden. Jim planted pumpkin patch.

Harvest:
Harvested romaine, cilantro, radishes, spinach, thyme, chives, sorrel, green onions, red salad bowl lettuce, strawberries, endive, beet leaves, chard, black seeded simpson lettuce, tarragon.

Also harvested another piglet and milk. I figure those things count, too.

Preserve:
I really slacked on this front. We didn't preserve anything really, nor did I clean stuff out of the freezer. But I have been getting stuff together to preserve some of the milk we're getting.

Store:
Added 14# peanut butter and 4 gallons white vinegar to the larder.

Prep:
Got a milk cow on Saturday, who will feed not only my family but also our pigs and chickens, so she's a huge help around the farm. Figuring out how to work with her and integrate her into our homestead has been paramount this week and will probably continue to be for a while.

We also picked up 20 Narragansett turkey poults since our hens did not set successfully. *sigh* Hopefully next year. And ordered 25 buck-eye chicks to round out our breeding program.

Manage:
Organized and cleaned out larder since Jim got my new shelves in last week. Also took inventory.

Installed second honeybee nuc on Sunday and inspected hives on Saturday. Both look good and seem to be drawing out the small cell foundation nicely, which will hopefully aid in organic control of varroa mites. Pulled the IPM board for mite monitoring to try to get a baseline for both hives, but I'm not good enough yet at recognizing mites—need to work on that. Observed a definite head start in the first hive, as they already had honey stores going. I saw pollen in both hives and found both queens, who had both moved off the original nuc frames and onto new foundation, which is hopefully another good sign.

Unfortunately, the eggs in the incubator did not develop. Not sure whether they were infertile to begin with (note to self: candle before incubating) or if the temps were too low on the outer edges.

Jim tilled between potatoes and hilled them.

Cook:
I didn't cook anything new this week, but Jim made some lovely Caesar salads. Mmmmm. Not new, but first of the season.

Add:
CSA delivery to three families: mixed baby greens, black seeded simpson lettuce, red salad bowl lettuce, swiss chard, cilantro, thyme, tarragon, sorrel, chives, strawberries.

Reduce:
Reduced packaging and travel of dairy products by getting our own cow. Reduced the amount of feed I'll need to buy for other animals.

Learn:
Well, I learned all about milking machines and routines this weekend, trying to figure out how best to make our situation work. Spent time figuring out how best to store and preserve the milk. This whole cow thing is going to be a pretty big learning curve, no doubt, but I feel like it's going relatively smoothly. The machine, while frustrating in its own right, is far less frustrating than trying to train her to hand-milking since she stands still for the machine.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Larder

At a very basic level, food storage translates into independence, but being able to ride out emergencies, shortages, and disasters is an important skill that many in our culture have lost. Most of us have come to expect the immediate and constant availability of aisles and aisles of groceries, convenient serving sizes, and loads of flashy packaging. Except in small pockets of our culture, the well-stocked larder is a thing of the past because, after all, one unspoken promise of the American Dream is the luxury of a well-stocked grocery open 24 hours a day, or at the very least a local quickie convenience store: "we want our Little Debbie snack cakes and we want them now!" (Though perhaps we shouldn't be too quick to denigrate the shelf life of twinkies, which may in fact survive both nuclear holocaust and the apocalypse. I can see the sci-fi feature now: Twinkie vs. Roach: the End of Days.)

This doesn't even delve into weather extremes, market whims or predatory speculators or even political unrest. Whether folks believe there will be outright shortages reaching into the complacent coziness of the American kitchen, the signs of rising prices and wildly fluxuating availability are quite clear around the world. And the emphasis on throwing energy and resources at biofuels means that the relative insulation Americans have enjoyed is likely over. Climbing food prices are making headlines from NPR to the Washington Post to the Boston Globe all the way to the Wall Street Journal, where pundits are talking about food storage as a better investment than banks these days. Americans are no longer as untouchable as we've been lead to believe.

So all this leads to the questions of what food storage might look like and how we can take responsibility for insulating ourselves, our families, and our community. There's loads of information out there about food storage and emergency preparedness from a range of perspectives, and I encourage folks to read through several of the sites for ideas. Different approaches will resonate for different people, but the insurance of a well-stocked larder is worth the investment. Do it right, and there's nothing to lose because it will all get eaten, and as the Wall Street fella points out, buying now will make your rapidly deflating dollar stretch its food value.

Here are some sites to get you started:

Our larder before and after organizing this weekend:













I've been working on trying to fill our larder for the past year, basically. It's been a long time coming together, but it's finally taking shape. We're to the point where we have back up stores of most everything we use on a regular basis, much of which is store bought obviously, but there's home made there as well. There are 3 Virginia-style hams hanging that aren't visible from this angle, and there are several jars of jam, salsa, and chutney still on the shelves. There are also several wire baskets just waiting to be filled with onions and squash, among other goodies.

My plan is to learn to pressure can this year and fill up even more of the shelves with home-canned food, particularly my tomato sauce, paste, and stewed tomatoes, which I admit that I've been freezing because it's easier and less intimidating. I have a pressure canner on semi-permanent loan from a neighbor, though I'd like to pick up my own in the next year or so. I've been doing some research only to find out that I can't pressure can on my glass-top stove, so I'll be purchasing a propane burner that will enable me to do much of it outside. That should be welcome come August!

What the picture doesn't show are the numerous bags sitting down in the potato bin under the shelves. I'm still searching for some good air tight containers for storing my grains and flours. Those will likely go along the open wall to the left of the photo. Ikea has some nice scoopable bins, but they're neither food grade nor air tight, so I'm still looking. Someone online mentioned Panera Bread as a good source for 3 gallon pickle buckets, so I may try giving them a call this week, though I'd rather something larger that didn't smell like pickles.

Obviously, not all that you see in the photo is necessary food storage. Much of it just comes through bulk purchasing the kids' favorites from our local buying co-op, like the Fruity Munch cereal and Annie's cheddar bunnies, for instance. Also, you'll see plenty of white stuff alongside the whole grains because that's what my family prefers. I've tried and tried to get them to switch to whole wheat pasta and bread, to no avail, so I do what I can. What it comes down to, though, is that I store what we eat rather than what I wish we'd eat, and even this kind of stuff is important for keeping up morale and appetite during emergency situations, especially for kids.

Behind the wire baskets are several gallon juice containers that I've been saving, which hold potable water for emergencies. Recommendations run about a gallon per person per day, so it's not much water storage, but it'll get us through a pinch. We also have a pretty good water purifier in our camping gear that offers some back up. We have an electric well pump, so our water supply is sadly dependent on electricity, a problem of which we are keenly aware and working to remedy.

There are, of course, loads of other foods available in our yard and in our freezer that aren't accounted for in the following inventory. I think of it kind of like a checks and balances integrated system with the larder, the freezer, the gardens, and the pastures each working to support the other so that we will always have food and options. Of course there are no guarantees in life, but the more diverse and local the food systems, the more flexibility and possibility are built in, and being able to roll with what's available is part of being prepared.

What's below is by no means an exhaustive list; it's just an inventory of what we have now, giving me insight into where we still need to go and attesting to how far we've come. I'll also admit to being a bit of a history geek, so I'm always mindful of how useful such lists can be for those who seek to learn about our culture and times down the road. Hopefully, too, this list may offer some useful information for folks out there just beginning to think about how their food storage might take shape. Sometimes seeing someone else's details helps us figure out our own. I'd love to hear about others' ideas and systems, so please feel free to leave those in the comments section.

On a practical note, this room is our well-pump room; it's below ground and keeps a fairly constant cool temperature. We're considering further insulating the inside wall this winter against the heat from our wood stove. This room, however, isn't ideal for storing some vegetables, so we'll continue to investigate root cellar possibilities, but the more I learn to grow during the winter, the more I'm convinced that fresh is the way to go whenever possible. The winter garden will never do away with food storage, nor should it, but more of my energy will go towards fresh eating year round and storing produce practically—prepping only the stuff we'll eat and not just because I can. Those green beans never seem to taste very good, to be honest, and I'd rather just eat my fill while they're fresh and bid them a fond farewell until next year.

Larder Inventory:
3 hams

50# wheat berries--hard red spring
20# all purpose flour
50# bread flour
35# whole wheat pastry flour
10# whole wheat flour (in freezer)
50# yellow popcorn
~10# white popcorn
~5# quinoa
25# realsalt
~35# non-iodized curing salt
25# black beans
~20# white jasmine rice
20# rolled oats
~45# yellow grits
~20# dried pasta

35# peanut oil
12 jars coconut oil
2.5 liters olive oil

1# roasted coffee beans
20# chocolate chips
48# baking soda
12# epsom salts
3qts hydrogen peroxide
3qts isopropyl alcohol
4qts apple cider vinegar

22 12oz cans evaporated milk
3 pints green tomato chutney
13 pints pickled green tomatoes
12 pints green tomato salsa
11 half pints strawberry jam
6 half pints grape jam
4 half pints black raspberry jam
8 15oz cans peaches
5 8oz jars chicken bouillon
5 8oz jars beef bouillon
3 27oz cans green chili
2 16oz jars salsa
1 16oz jar green chili
9 4oz cans green chili

1 bulk toilet paper
various and sundry cereals and snacks
~6 gallons Clorox bleach
2 gallons distilled white vinegar

On order:

50# wheat berries--hard winter red
25# arborio rice
25# brown basmati rice

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Independence Days Week 3

1) Plant:

We've been so wet here that it's been difficult to get more planting done, but I managed to squeeze some in this week, probably working the soil a bit too wet in the hoop house, so I hope it doesn't come back to haunt me.

This week I planted the gourdseed corn down in the grain test plot. I got some more lettuces planted in the hoop house: slo-bolt, red salad bowl, oakleaf, and salad bowl. And, the rain held off yesterday, so I finally got my basil in the market garden. I didn't get my tomato and pepper seedlings in yet, but at least they're growing, so there's no big rush there. Next weekend looks to be nice, and everything should be dry enough, so that's my big project on slate for then. That and the cotton—gotta get the cotton in. Oh, and the amaranth.


2) Harvest:

Harvested black seeded simpson lettuce, romaine, speckled romaine, red salad bowl and green salad bowl lettuces, green onions, chives, rosemary, thyme, oregano, dill, cilantro, turnips, radishes and chard.


3) Preserve:

Still working on clearing out old preserves: pesto, dried tomatoes, turkey. Jim vacuum sealed and froze remaining pork from last week's butchering.

4) Store:

Put up 50 pounds of baking soda and one bulk pack of toilet paper. Not gonna go crazy on the t.p., but having one back up package in case of shortages seemed to make sense. Let's face it, it'd be easy enough to switch to cloth, but it's gonna take a mini-crisis to manifest that change. It's the only paper product we still use on a regular basis, and the family has no desire to give up that little luxury.

5) Prep:

Jim finished with the shelving in my larder—yay! I'll be spending this rainy Sunday organizing everything down there. The shelves in the background are the new ones, creating even more usable storage space. The shelves on the right were stored up in the barn loft when we moved into the house. Jim was able to reassemble and anchor them directly into the wall last year. These are bomb-proof and hold all my canning jars at the moment.


6) Manage:

I spent Thursday working in the kitchen garden—weeding the garlic bed and clearing out the hoop house. I pulled the turnips, which were too hard hit by the slugs to be worth keeping. I sorted through and kept those and fed the rest to the piggies. I also pulled the arugula, which I was hoping to let go to seed, but it was creating too much slug habitat to leave in place. I brought two hens in again to help clear the bugs before I planted.

I also got the market garden weeded yesterday and put out the new agribon row cover I bought to help with the flea beetle damage on the brassicas.

7) Cook:

This week I made a lemon cake from scratch for my son's birthday. Unfortunately, he wanted the mix that his gramma makes, so it wasn't a huge hit.

8) Add:

CSA delivery to three families: eggs, red salad bowl lettuce, romaine, green salad bowl lettuce, swiss chard, oregano, dill, chives, cilantro, and radishes. Exchanged eggs with neighbor across the way who brought his tractor to help till a new bed Jim made for the kids in the front yard. He saw Jim using the hand tiller and the kids raking it out, so he drove over to help out. Gave 6 raspberry plants to neighbor next door.

9) Reduce:

Using packaging bags for trash can liners, since unrecyclable plastic is one of our few garbage items. This at least reuses them before throwing them away. I also purchased some reusable chico shopping bags to keep in my purse for stores other than the grocery. I'm good about grabbing my canvas bags for grocery shopping but often forget to grab them when shopping for other things, so this should further eliminate our plastic accumulation.

10) Learn:

Continued to learn about bees and installed my first nuc in their hive. Picked up second nuc yesterday evening and will install this week at first sunny weather. I learned about Housel positioning of the foundation after I installed the first nuc, so I'll be using that with the second hive. The efficacy of Housel positioning is questionable, but it should make for an interesting variable between the two hives.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Bees have Arrived!

One nuc (short for nucleus) anyway. The other will hopefully be ready within the next week, depending on the weather and how the queen is laying.

The install went really well, all things considered. Of course, my bee brush has gone missing, and I had a bit of trouble keeping the smoker going. I'm going to need to practice on that one. So there were the inevitable snags. (Jules is taking the photos with the zoom lens.)

Above, I'm smoking the nuc's front entrance slightly to settle the bees before moving them to the ground. The box sat on top of the hive overnight with an open entrance so the bees could orient and explore the area in the morning. Bees will actually recognize their own hive based on visual cues, so giving them time to associate with this new location is important.

Although I look a bit squeemish in the photo to the left, I'm actually searching for the queen and trying to get in the habit of holding the frame carefully. I'm hoping eventually to move to foundationless frames, which require more gentle handling than hives with an anchored installed foundation (i.e. the beeswax/ plastic sheet that establishes the pattern for the honeycomb, which you can see in leaning against the hive in the lower right corner of the photo below). I was able to find the queen on this frame before I inserted it into the hive.

All together, the nuc was 4 frames full of bees, brood, and honey. The idea behind a nuc is that it basically is the nucleus of an active hive, giving the new hive a leg up on a package of bees who will still need to build comb, lay eggs, etc. The downsides of nucs are that they are a bit more expensive, and they have a greater risk of bringing along infestations and diseases.

After installing all four frames and knowing the queen is already in the hive, I dumped the remaining bees into the hive much as one would install a package of bees. There were many, many bees, but I still have no sense of just how many. I imagine I'll get better at estimating that over time.


Once everyone was either in the hive or at least out of the box, I installed the remaining frames on either side of the brood nest and used my hive tool to gently slide the frames together to preserve bee space, or the space which bees will respect and neither seal up because it's too small nor build comb in because it's too big. By this point, there were several bees flying around though none seemed particularly aggressive. Mostly they seemed curious, checking me out definitely, but not attacking.

Throughout the install, the bees had only the initial bit of smoke because I wasn't going to stop in the middle to work on the smoker. I just concentrated on moving smoothly and slowly, being as gentle as possible with the bees. Jules had found a soft paintbrush for me that worked in a pinch, and I was able to use that to brush the bees out of the way as best I could so as to injure as few as possible. I will definitely need to find that bee brush or order a replacement! Here they are on the hive immediately after the install. While it looks like a lot, it's really not.

I really liked my suit, and that definitely helped me to feel relaxed while working with the bees. The hood stood off my face nicely and wasn't difficult to see through at all; having my hair up, though, was essential. I was able to use some Christmas money from my mother-in-law to purchase mine. Jules has already said she wants to order her own suit so she can come out with me, and Em and Sam are considering doing the same (G.W.'s spending incentives at work!). Sam kept telling me how proud he was of me because I was so brave to work with the bees. What a sweetie! Emily hung back a bit, armed with the binoculars so she wouldn't miss anything and quite interested considering her fear of bees.

What I really want to get... but not until next year... is an observation hive. Maybe we'll even get confident enough to try our hand at building our own top bar observation hive.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Independence Days Week 2

1) Plant Something:
Direct sowed:
  • bush beans: royal burgandy, provider, rocdor, and Isar French fillet bean
  • hearts of gold cantaloupe and moon & stars watermelon
  • artichokes
  • horseradish
  • summer squash: black beauty zucchini, costata zucchini, golden bush scallop, early prolific straightneck
  • double standard old fashioned sweet corn
  • red velvet okra
Seed Flats:
  • medicinal: motherwort, saltwort, woad, horehound, wormwood, chamomile, mullein, blue cohosh, bergamot, pennyroyal, peppermint, lemon balm, hyssop, flax, sage, white sage, joe pye, feverfew, soapwort, valerian, blue vervain, salad burnet, yarrow, skullcap, arnica, evening primrose, marshmallow, hens & chicks, aloe, lovage
  • spice: Mexican tarragon, Thai chili, paprika
  • rhubarb

2) Harvest Something:
  • spinach
  • swiss chard
  • chives
  • spring garlic
  • winter density romaine
  • red salad bowl lettuce
  • black seeded simpson lettuce
  • speckled bibb lettuce
  • green salad bowl lettuce
  • thyme
  • citrus thyme
  • oregano
  • green onions
  • cilantro
  • hakurei turnips

3) Preserve Something:

Still working to use up last year's preserves—used frozen cherry tomatoes, dried grape tomatoes, jam, meats.

Also vacuum sealed and froze left over spring seeds that won't be needed again until next year. Keeping out those seeds that will go into the fall garden.

4) Store Something:

Several items were on sale at the grocery this week, so I stocked up on dried pasta, toothpaste, and Breyer's ice cream (the kids' favorite).

5) Prep Something:

Set up the beehives in the upper pasture and began work on front medicinal garden with seed flats. Cleaned and organized mud room/ laundry room area to be used for cleaning and storing milk machine; also dug out my dehydrator which lives on my unused clothes dryer. Trying to figure out a way to use the clothes dryer for storage—perhaps for the milk bucket, but don't know yet. I'm open to ideas.

Set up incubator with 23 ameraucana eggs for layer hen replacement since hens failed to brood for us *sigh*.

6) Manage Something:

Laid polymulch in the strawberries. Weeded market garden. Pulled bolting veggies in the kitchen garden. Pulled 2 year old frozen veggies to give to pigs.

7) Cook Something New:

We butchered one of our piglets this weekend and cooked it on the grill rotisserie.

8) Add Something Local:

CSA delivery to 3 families. Gave away 35 strawberry plants to a member of my local simplicity circle. Joined the One Local Summer blog challenge.

9) Reduce Waste:

Continued to recycle what we couldn't reuse. All food waste goes to animals or compost. Used repurposed sheer curtains for row-covers in garden to protect brassicas.

10) Learn Something:

Spent this week learning more about bees and cows, soil health, and fruit tree management. Unfortunately for me, I also learned quite a bit about recent scientific efforts to culture meat in a laboratory—yuck.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Veggie or In Vitro?

Okay, maybe I'm behind the times—a day late and a dollar short, as it were—but at least my meat is still meat. It looks like meat, it moves like meat, it tastes like meat, and that's the way I like it.

What am I talking about you ask?

In vitro meat production.

No, not cloning. Actual meat cells produced in a lab environment sans animal in great big vats known as "bioreactors." They're calling this bizarre, sci-fi food experiment the "New Harvest" and touting it as the best thing to happen to vegetarians since textured vegetable protein. With this scientific breakthrough vegetarians can enjoy a more burger like substance from a cruelty-free laboratory source. Oooh boy!

Jason Matheny, one of the forerunning researchers on the project, explains, "With cultured meat, there's no body to support; you're only building the meat that eventually gets eaten." No body, no crime, apparently.

Here's a little blurb from the New Harvest website:
"New Harvest is a nonprofit research organization working to develop new meat substitutes, including cultured meat — meat produced in vitro, in a cell culture, rather than from an animal.

Because meat substitutes are produced under controlled conditions impossible to maintain in traditional animal farms, they can be safer, more nutritious, less polluting, and more humane than conventional meat."

Seriously folks, I could not make this up. Michael Pollan seems to have ignored this tasty little tidbit of nutritionism in his latest book, In Defense of Food. Surprising, considering this takes designer food to a whole new level! The cutting edge magazine Wired didn't miss it, however, and neither did the New York Times.

Apparently the technology has been around since at least 2001, growing out of experiments conducted by NASA exploring the possibility of producing food in space. Alternet has an article dated back in July 2006, so this stuff has been brewing... er um, culturing... for quite a while now.

And PETA's all over it.

This isn't just a marketing scheme by New Harvest, trying to create a niche market for their product. (Though don't miss the quite conscious choice by NH to showcase a photo of wispy golden wheat fields instead of petri dishes on their homepage.) No, PETA is jumping whole hog onto the in vitro bandwagon, going so far as to offer a $1,000,000 reward to the first scientists to successfully serve up fake meat. Well, not just any meat. Apparently PETA prefers chicken, as the contest rules specifically state that the following criteria must be met by June 30, 2012:

• Produce an in vitro chicken-meat product that has a taste and texture indistinguishable from real chicken flesh to non-meat-eaters and meat-eaters alike.
• Manufacture the approved product in large enough quantities to be sold commercially, and successfully sell it at a competitive price in at least 10 states.
• Judging of taste and texture will be performed by a panel of 10 PETA judges, who will sample the in vitro chicken prepared using a fried "chicken" recipe from VegCooking.com. The in vitro chicken must get a score of at least 80 when evaluated in order to win the prize.

Sound impossible? I sure hope so!

Yet, scientists from Norway, Johns Hopkins University, UNC, University of Auckland, University of Utrecht, and more seem to be working mighty hard to bring us better living through superior chemistry, as April 2008 ushered in the first International In Vitro Meat Symposium. Interestingly enough, they too favor images from nature for their website. Hmmm, a trend perhaps? Certainly an attempt to associate their research with the natural world in people's minds—maybe even their own.

Here's a link to the 2008 Symposium schedule for those interested in checking out what these scientists are concocting.

New Harvest has an exhaustive FAQ page for those interested in reading more propaganda for cultured meat products. Note, the comforting image at the top of school children eagerly raising their hands, already creating an intimate connection between fake meat and a mass institution of hungry little minds... and bodies. Ummm, yeah, PETA, cultured meat made from "the blood of cow fetuses" seems ever so much better than eating Bessie's humanely pastured calf.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Goat Bloat

Or, what happens when your goat gets into the pig feed... and let me tell you, it's not good.

This actually happened back in March, the day before the piggies were born, so I was dealing with bloat and birth all in the same day. It made for a very long day. This is the first chance I've had to blog about it, so here it is.

This is Latte on a good day. Quite svelte, no? That's her little boy, Dragon, who will be a year old next week.



This is Latte on a bloat day. Looks uncomfortable, no?



Puts that whole premenstrual water retention thing into perspective, doesn't it? Boy oh boy, was she uncomfortable! Thankfully though, she was never down, so we were able to walk her lots, massage her lots—I'm talking every two hours or so—and she recovered just fine, but it was a bit scary nonetheless.

A goat can die from bloat, as can any ruminant, so it's a really serious condition. The clinical name for this particular kind of bloat is enterotoxemia type D, and it's caused by the overgrowth of clostridia perfringens type D, a normal inhabitant of the gut that goes on overload—this is the CD part of the standard CD&T vaccine. We do vaccinate our goats, and this probably is what saved Latte's life.

A ruminant can go toxic pretty quickly from overeating: the CD overgrowth produces an epsilon toxin, which is a particularly nasty neurotoxin that increases vascular permeability and facilitates its own uptake, and the ruminant's behavior really reflects this. Some descriptions say "depressed," but really it's more like a drunkenness or drugged out look. Hard to describe, but clearly different behavior and noticeable in the eyes.

If the goat is down and you can't get it up, tubing to release the gas can help, and worst-case scenarios involve making an incision in the goat's left side to release the pressure, which is, at this stage, putting pressure on the lungs and diaphragm. Here's a website that describes the process pretty clearly. Thankfully, none of this was necessary for us, and again, the vaccine was probably a relatively cheap and easy insurance policy.

I thought long and hard about moving away from vaccines, and was seriously considering it, but this incident turned my thinking around. Goats are notorious for getting out of and into everything, and with our homestead situation where we keep so many different animals, there's just too much of a chance that something like this could happen again, despite our best efforts at precaution. I'd rather give a vaccine once a year than risk a downed and possibly dead goat.

At any rate, the evening I knew the goats got into the pig feed, I pulled all food and water even though neither was showing signs of bloat at that point. Pulling both food and water can help prevent acidosis as well as preventing the grain in her gut from swelling further. Unfortunately, I had no way of knowing how much feed the goats ate, as they got into the whole can of feed. Yes, I know. Bad farmer.

We gave them some baking soda, which helps break up the gas bubbles and balance the pH of the rumen, which is becoming increasingly acidic with the bloat—called ruminal acidosis. The next morning, it was clear that Latte had bloat while Dragon seemed, thankfully, unaffected. She wasn't taking the baking soda, so I got a few mouthfuls into her. I also drenched her with peanut oil, which ostensibly breaks the surface tension of the gas bubbles while also greasing the digestive track to move the food out more quickly.

We also began massaging and walking her around the barnyard, getting her running whenever possible. The kids were really helpful with this part! An old farmer's trick is to put the ruminant in a wagon attached to the tractor and ride them around the pastures, the idea being that all the bumping will help dislodge the gas bubbles.

Latte made it through the day, but was showing no signs of passing gas or feeling any relief, and she still wouldn't touch the baking soda. When things were similar the next day, we continued our regimen of massage and walking. She began to show interest in some hay, so we gave her that as well as some dried maple leaves, as roughage helps get the rumen back in shape. I also chose, at this point to give her some simethicone, as there was no evidence that she had yet been able to pass any of the gas. After a single dose, she began feeling much better; her entire demeanor changed within a few hours and a second dose was never needed.

Over the next couple of days, she continued to recover with no signs of residual affects. I continued to monitor her for signs of founder, or laminitis, and pneumonia, a secondary infection that can result from drenching improperly. With laminitis, basically what happens is that the laminae, a network of tissue and blood vessels that hold the hoof in place, break down and are no longer able to hold the bones in place, possibly filling the hoof with blood and causing the bones to rotate downward. Severe founder causes the goat to walk on its knees rather than feet and will follow it through life. Here's a good article on founder.

Pneumonia can occur when liquid, like the peanut oil, enters the trachea and therefore the lungs. Proper head positioning during drenching is important to help prevent this from occurring, and using a flavored oil like peanut rather than tasteless mineral oil, which you might see recommended, can help encourage the goat to swallow, thus eliminating the possibility of oil entering the trachea.

So, very long story that, thankfully, had a happy ending. Latte is fine and happy out on pasture right now, looking svelte but losing that girlish figure as her impending birth approaches. We hope, anyway. Check back around the beginning of June to see whether we have some new kids on the farm.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Independence Days Week 1

Sharon Astyk has a new challenge over at Casaubon's Book, and like the Dark Days of Winter challenge, it fits nicely with my own goals. So, I'm hoping to use it as personal motivation to accomplish things on a daily basis and keep myself on track throughout the busy season.

The rules are simple: every day or every week work on one of the several categories listed below. My goal is to do at least one of them every day, and so here's my week one update.

1) Plant something:

This week I planted my hulless oats (which I know are incredibly late going in but such is life) and quinoa down in my grain test plot, a row of radishes, a couple rows of dill, a row of oregano, and several rows of lettuce. I also got the banana fingerling potatoes cut up, and Jim got them in the ground yesterday.

2) Harvest something:

This week I harvested lettuce, asparagus, spinach, chard, cilantro, turnips, radishes, thyme, chives, green onions, sorrel, dill, and spring garlic.

3) Preserve something:

At this point in the season, my goal isn't so much to preserve something as to be using up last year's preserves to make way for the new season's round of preserves. So, in that vein, we've been using tomato paste, frozen cherry tomatoes, basil, chutney and jams, as well as heritage chickens and pork.

4) Store something:

I've been slowly building up our food stores with coop purchases. Last week I added rice, which would've been purchased regardless because we were out, salt, popcorn, peanut oil and coconut oil.

5) Prep something:

Last weekend I sheared our sheep, and this weekend we attended the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival and purchased some wool carders to begin processing our wool. We also got some felting needles for fun and some local dyed cotswold curls. I'd hoped to also find a Navajo spindle for spinning the wool, but no one had one, so we're planning to make a few here at home.

I also got my milking machine this week that I ordered used from ebay. Hopefully, our milk cow will come to live with us by the end of this month!

6) Manage something:

This week managing the high tunnel has been my biggest focus, particularly battling a slug invasion. Apparently the slugs that managed to overwinter in there have now reproduced in a small explosion. I spent 2 hours on 2 consecutive nights out handpicking the slugs and hopefully made a significant dent in the population. I pulled some yellowed foliage from the lettuce bottoms and worked to create more air circulation in general to help prevent disease and remove some of the sheltered, moist environment for the slugs. All of this booty went to the chickens and the geese who were quite happy! I also pulled some of the bolting veggies to make room for new sowings and put one of my laying hens in for a few hours to help prep the bed and remove the buggies.

Also got most of my tomato seedlings potted up yesterday before heading out to the Sheep and Wool fest.

7) Cook something new:

This week, after enjoying a couple rounds of steamed asparagus, I roasted some with olive oil, sea salt and garlic as per Madeline's instructions, and it was fabulous! Here it's accompanied by heritage chicken rotisseried on the grill, salad with a balsamic vinaigrette, poached new potatoes marinated in the same vinaigrette, and herb focaccia bread.

8) Add something to local food systems:

This week we continued to deliver delicious, organically grown produce to our 3 annual CSA members. I gave my neighbor some of our scrap greenhouse plastic so he could finish building a small cold frame for some of his vegetable starts as well as sharing some of our eggs and lettuces with them. I emailed my local bulk co-op on delivery day to let them know I have eggs and produce available that I can bring to pick up and sold a bag of lettuce. I'm also working on setting up our farm site to take pre-orders for produce, kind of like a virtual farm stand.

9) Compost something:

We compost everything.

10) Learn something:

The girls and I are learning how to needle felt, and last night I began working on a garden goddess. I'm also learning as much as I can about wool processing, as I mentioned earlier.

My beehives are finished, and I plan to set them up today for the bees arrival next weekend. So, I'm also reading and learning as much as I can about organic beekeeping, which there's not a lot of support for here at the local level, unfortunately. Thank goodness for the internet!

Friday, May 02, 2008

What would I be willing to give up?

Wendy over at Happily Home posted a challenge to consider the modern amenities we're privileged to have from a trade-off point of view: what would we be willing to give up in order to keep?

This is a tricky post to write because truth be told we've already given up lots of conveniences to a large extent, and much of what we haven't given up are just vestiges. There are several things I'd be able to give up pretty easily if pressed. For instance, a flushing toilet. I'd have no problem switching to a composting toilet, but right now we have a flush toilet that goes into a septic tank, so not much point in ripping one out to put in the other. We're pretty temperate here, so I'd give up heat as long as we have our wood stove and fuel to burn, which is what we pretty much did this past winter with the thermostat set at 55° during the day and 50° at night. Television and a clothes dryer are non-issues for me, though I do like being able to watch movies at home. I do lots of things by hand around the farm rather than using gas-powered machines: hauling water and 50# feedbags, for instance, weeding, pest control. I like having the tractor to turn the compost pile, but we could do that by hand, too, if we needed to.

So there are lots of things that I can easily see giving up, especially if that meant getting the reward of keeping something else. But, that's really a false premise, isn't it? I mean, when things fall apart, we rarely get to choose in such a quid pro quo fashion. But it's a fun mental exercise nonetheless if for no other reason than it reveals a lot about ourselves. So at any rate, my list may have a bit of a doomsday spin to it, but there's some frivolity there as well.

1) I'd give up my coffee maker... if I could keep coffee.

2) I'd give up my small appliances... if I could keep my stand mixer.

3) I'd give up plastic bags and buckets and bins... if I could keep greenhouse plastic.

4) I'd give up air conditioning... if I could keep fans.

5) I'd give up the grocery store... if I could keep bulk supply.

6) I'd give up my electric stove... if I could keep lights.

7) I'd give up my dishwasher... if I could keep my refrigerator.

8) I'd give up my washer... if I could keep my freezer.

9) I'd give up my flush toilet... if I could keep running water.

10) I'd give up the internet... if I could keep the mail, libraries, and print production. (yeah, I know, that's 3 things, but the internet's a biggie!)

What would you give up?