Adjacent to Development!

Our farm came with many surprises. One of them – we’re adjacent to development. Construction is in full swing. The old house and barn behind us are gone. ($16 Million dollars it cost to build that house. Gone.) That land is just so much more valuable as 15,000 teeny-tiny homesites than it could ever be as a farm.

I want out. My neighbors want to stay, this is home, they’ll plant trees and spend more time indoors to avoid the noise. The way zoning works here – our land can only be farms. We can’t sell to developers. We can’t add even one house here. But farming is – different – when you have 15,000 neighbors. That’s 15,000 possible vegetarians offended by our “exploitation” of animals, 15,000 possible idiots who think cow-tipping is funny or petting the pigs would be cute or – any number of stupid ideas. One little fence away from our land, all looking out at our farm (they’re “view homes” of course) and getting annoyed when our animals are noisy or worried when our animals take a nap laying flat-out and immobile.

The day they approved that development, they made our valley unsuitable for true agriculture. Fighting noise complaints about roosters is not on the Productive Farmers daily To-Do List. Urbanized people always think there’s someone to call to take their troubles away. Barking dog? Call the dog-catcher. Barking Livestock Guardian Dog? Call the dog-catcher, don’t get satisfaction, call City Council and try to pass a law banning LGDs. They approved development under the promise they’ll be “Homes of Distinction.” That means that, although the houses and lots are tiny, they have pretty kitchens and cost $400k++. So we’re not just getting saddled with tons of neighbors, we’re getting saddled with tons of neighbors who think they’re economically important, who think they have to defend their Property Values. And their Property Values are going to be a lot more important to them than our rights as farmers. No matter what the right-to-farm laws say.

Our roosters might be part of our chicken program, but our neighbors will surely value their sleep more than they value our roosters. I can’t tell them how many times development woke us up, tearing down old-growth trees or dropping 10-ton sewer pieces, so heavy they shake the ground 1,000 feet away. No matter how much we try to “connect” urban folks to farming – they still want it to be some quaint thing they visit and then leave behind when they go home. They don’t want it to be the soundtrack and smellscape of their Home of Distinction.

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Happy holidays

Some of us are missing our extended families while stay home to tend the critters. Some of us are having a jolly good time with family, and some of us are biting our tongues as we experience the sheer humanity of our  extended families. A good time to share a story.

There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.

The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.”

Happy holidays!

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This little piggy went scree scree scree

We added hogs to the farm. Starting with a little test litter, to see if we hate them. We rather like the little piggies. They are easy to lead, so we can rotate them through pastures without the agonizing herding that makes me hate alpacas. Just “Here piggy piggy” and they follow.

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“Grafting” baby goat (or, why you shouldn’t pee on baby goats until they’re weaned)

I made a stupid mistake this year.  I put a buckling in with the buck for the day, thinking they’d start getting used to each other.  The idea was to have buckling spend days with buck, nights with mom, and, it would make the buckling’s transition to bachelor quarters go a little easier.  Whoops.

See, it’s a dumb idea because the buck was being a buck – spraying himself with urine to prove himself manly enough for every female goat in the county.  I didn’t even think about it until mom rejected the little buckling when he came home.  Goats do a LOT by scent.  They recognize their own babies by scent, and they push away the other mom’s goats who try to steal a belly-full of milk.  They know the difference by scent.

So I brought home a buck-scented baby, and mom said “get him away from me.”  I wasn’t ready to wean the little guy.  I hoped things would resolve, and I saw baby get one quick nosh, but when I came back to check, baby was crying from an empty tummy and mom was crying for her lost baby.

I had bought a bottle of Mother Up as a “just in case” supply.  I could probably have made the same thing, used Vick’s vapo-rub or something similar, but the Mother Up wasn’t too expensive and the bottle will probably last me a few years/decades.  My buck odor mistake gave me a chance to try it out.

You spray Mother Up on the mom’s face (careful not to get it in their eyes), and spray it on the baby’s head and butt.  The scent is strongly minty, strong enough to block mom’s olfactory recognition of baby.  You force mom to let baby nurse.  Repeat again in 12 hours if necessary.  When mom smells the baby to make sure he’s hers, all she can smell is minty stuff.  Baby smells like her, sort of.

One the baby has eaten off the mother a couple times, it should start to emit mom’s pheremones (or whatever it is that mom recognizes as “hers”).  Natural scents and habit gradually replace the artificial grafting scent.

We’ve only used it the once, but it did work it’s magic.  The product is designed to help overcome maternal rejection or to graft a baby onto a different mother.  We had a maternal rejection last year, and it’s always possible to lose a mother before babies are weaned, so the product caught my eye in the goat catalog.  One thing I like about it is that it doesn’t lose effectiveness if it freezes, so I can keep it in the barn.  It sits next to my other magic potion, NutriDrench. 

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Banding bucking bucklings

We’ve got a crop of early-developers.  I think our goat buck will hereafter be known as The Buckmaker.  Man, bucky-boy is fertile, ready, and he gives those qualities to his kids.  As in, barely 2-month old bucklings going into rut!

So, the guys we don’t want as breeding stock (all of this year’s crop so far, sorry guys!) had to get neutered asap.  We banded goats for the first time today.  Easy-peasy.  The only battle was on being held wierd, not the banding itself.  I’m a nervous nelly, I’ll be watching closely to be sure it went right (I double-checked and triple-checked that everything that should be in the band, is, and nothing else!).  Not one squawk of complaint about the banding, not even after.

But it was hard.  My heart was in my mouth and I was shaking after the first one.  Just terrified I’d mess it up in a way that caused hurt or harm.  And then the last one… he’s a good little buck.  Fast growth, good blood, good teats, GREAT personality, but I’d like to see a little… more.  Having another intact buck would be a hassle right now, and I need peace and time more than I need a “might be pretty good.”  So he got into the banding line.  I was shaking after banding him, too, with regrets and misgivings before I even finished the relatively quick task.  I had a steady hand during the task though, which was REALLY good, because the buckling jumped out of hubby’s arms with the stretched band around his, ahem, business, but not yet released into perfect position.  I managed to slip the bander off in mid-air.  I took a hoof in the nose as the buckling kicked for anything that might help him escape the discomfort of being held upright.

We regrouped, got the band on, and released the last buckling.  Not a pip of complaint from him.  Me, my nose is sore and my glasses are a little bent.  And, boy, the minute the job was done, I wanted to run for the knife to undo it.  I like that little buck.  But such is life.  There aren’t enough jobs for all the good bucks; only the great get the gigs.  But, I will be keeping his Mum and Dad, so if he grows into the powerhouse I think he will, well, maybe I can repeat the mating and get a second chance.

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The well, again

The well froze again!  There must be a sensor that we can’t find.  The pipes are wrapped, the pipe heater’s working, but if temps drop low enough, the damn thing quits again.  We dug out a hose line last year to look at running a water line to a barn, and it’s not below the frost line.  I guess that was a false start, because heating that section didn’t get the water running this time.  Every fix we’ve found, it changes when temps drop a little more.

We stockpiled bottled water, but with lactating animals, it wasn’t going to last us until the roads cleared again.  We emptied a 5 gallon jug, and when we came back with boiling water to keep it warm enough not to freeze, a third of it was gone.  The critters use hay and water to heat themselves from the inside.  Icy road conditions are predicted through the end of the weekend.  And we don’t have 4WD on anything except the tractor.  We wondered if driving to the store for water for the animals would be a legal use of our tractor on public roads!

We finally resorted to scooping up snow to melt it on the stove, trying to stretch the water reserves a bit.  And then, halleluja, the water came back on.  The fix?  A last-ditch, this-isn’t-the-answer but try-anything desperation.  We put a space heater into the well house on full blast.  How much is running water worth?  Well, it’s costing us about $5 a day at this point, but I don’t have any better ideas in the short-term.

Add “rebuild well house with industrial-grade insulation” to the to-do list.  Something important in there freezes when temps drop below 28, even with heat tape and pipe insulation and then radiant barrier insulation wrapped around the whole works.

Gosh, I like running water.  Now we can haul big buckets off to each barn twice a day again.  The barn we’re repairing – and using while under repair, because we desperately need the space – is on the same plane as the house.  We could potentially run water to it, properly buried so it runs year-round.  But it’s not near our pastures.  The goats in there now have to be walked to pasture, then walked back to the barn at night.  If we build pasture fences out to the barn, we’ll either lose the drive to the other side of the property, or have to build a ton of gates. 

Once we started moving goats in there, I realized how unworkable it is in terms of daily management.  It’s not the worst leading adult goats around, but baby goats need to learn to follow their mothers before we hike them across the property.  And, of course, it’s added time and labor when maintenance and milking already take time and building out/repairing/rehabbing takes more time than we have.  But that’s the only barn that’s workable in terms of running water and power.  Quandary.

The other barn – the one we’d been using from the start – is 10′ below the house, just a steep drop.  I’ve been worried about the hill slipping, because it’s so steep and drops off right near the house.  (I stacked railroad ties next to the slope just in case!)  I’d be afraid to dig in it for a water line until we build a retaining wall.  Well, retaining walls cost a fortune, so there’s no running water in that barn’s future, except the garden hose dragged over to it.  But it’s perfect for baby goats – there’s a couple small pasture areas adjacent to it, and we can see (and hear) it from the house.  We’ve seen coyotes try to get there, but they’ve never gotten past the house before we chase them off.  But pregnant and lactating goats need water, even in winter, and reliable power is sure a help when you get a singleton birth in freezing weather, or, you know, just to run lights or bucket defrosters. 

So I think the answer is to move.  I floated the idea of Miami, but hubby is a tough sell.  Maybe Tahiti would be more his style?

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Goat gets her karmic due

The goat who gave birth in the freeze – she’s my only “bad” goat. She is the only one who doesn’t respect fences. She is the first one to encourage mutiny through any gap she finds in a fence, gate, or barn door. Usually, she mutinies alone. So she is the “bad” goat, the others are the “good” goats.

Her baby is just like her. She slips away at will. Her poor mother mahs quietly, anxiously. Sometimes, she hears me at the barn door, and starts calling to me to come fetch her baby back to her. The baby doesn’t come when her mother calls.

Ha-ha, goat! Ha-ha! Now you know how we felt every time you slipped out. Now you know why we keep you in. Not for meanness, not to control, only to protect. We know there are no coyotes “in”, so we don’t want you to go “out”. We know you can’t poison yourself by overeating chicken feed “out” so we don’t let you go “in”. We care about your survival, you wretched wretch of a goat. And now you feel it, too. Ha!

On the other hand, she’s seeing us in a new light. We are no longer the evil overlords maintaining her captivity. We are the ones who keep bigger goats out, who bring baby back in. We are, for the period of bonding and baby indoctrination, her servants. Here’s your water, Miss Goat. Here’s your hay. Here’s your feed. Here’s your baby. Sometimes, helping a new mother goat helps her bond to us, too. This one, we’ll see.

We tried to reintegrate her with just one other goat sharing a stall. It didn’t work. As she ran, zigging and zagging through the stall, she found herself cornered. I was squatting inside the bonding enclosure. “Here,” I called, “come here.” She looked wildly around the stall, saw no escape, came to me. She never comes to me. I fetched her baby, latched the gate closed, and she finally saw that, sometimes, captivity is safety. Now she wants her baby to stay captive. Goat has become the evil overlord. Her poor little world has turned upside down. But her suffering is for joy, she has a new one to love, she loves it fiercely and I love her for that.

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I worry

Maybe farming was the wrong choice.  I have all the worries of a mom – did they do their homework? are they growing right? are they healthy? – with the added worries of a business – are we making enough to pay the expenses?  Would we still make enough if we had to hire someone to replace me?

Unfortunately, you just can’t get a job as a billionaire heiress these days.  Talk about nepotism.  You totally have to know someone to get that gig.  So I guess I’ll keep muddling along as a worried farmer. 

Which is all to say – my goat gave freakin’ birth.  In this weather?  Remember when I said it was cold?  It is sooo not “gosh, the weather’s so lovely, I think I’ll plop out a kid today!”

Which is doubly incosiderate of her considering that 1) I hate hauling buckets of water around the farm in a freeze, and 2) I worry, so I can’t just snuggle up on my couch at the end of the day with a tiny new baby sitting in the freezing dang barn.  Oh, no, I have to hike over there and check on her (it’s a her! yay!).  It’s so cold, I don’t even enjoy checking on the new baby. 

And new moms need warm water for sure, milk is mostly water.  Earlier in the winter, I discovered that a warmed water bucket had been pooped in, the goats only had a bucket if clean COLD water to drink.  I guess it had been there several hours; our family milker came in empty.  A few hours without warm water, there was barely any milk to have.  Fortunately, we didn’t need her milk for babies, so no harm, no foul, just an object lesson in how important water is to lactating goats.

Well, anyway, new Mom’s doing great.  Baby – she’s okay, she’s got all the stuff she’s supposed to have, nothing she shouldn’t, she’s dry and got her colostrum and she’s not frozen or anything.  But I’ll worry until she’s at least a week old, or until the weather changes, whichever comes first.  And that’s on top of the mundane worries of the farm and the mundane worries of new kids. 

On the plus side, goat babies are really cute.  When I defrost, I’ll probably be very excited. 

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It’s COLD!!

Between government and military transfers, I have literally spent my entire life as a transplant.  One side benefit: I discovered my ideal weather.  It’s called air conditioning.  Perfect temperature, perfect humidity, no risk of sunburn.  Okay, just kidding.  But this – this is not my ideal weather.  This is COLD.

Our watering situation sucks.  First, our well sucks.  Then, it connects to the house, and that’s all it connects to.  Water in the barn comes through a hose or hand-carried in a bucket.  Freezing weather means water hand-carried in a bucket.  So we’ve decided to start raising camels.  Freezing weather = use your darn reserves!  Ah.  I wish.  🙂

Which is to say, it’s freezing outside.  We didn’t expect it to be freezing.  I just came in from draining/disconnecting all the hoses so the hose nibs won’t freeze and burst.  The ground is covered in dead leaves covered in sparkling diamonds of frost.  The animals are all sleeping quietly.  I’m the only one putting up a fuss. 

On the plus side, it has frozen enough times that our animals have all been winter-tested, and my mother-instinct worries have gone to bed for the year.  It will probably warm enough mid-day to refill tomorrow’s buckets before tomorrow night’s freeze (if there is one).  We’ve got it down to a routine drudgery.  Keep the lactating goats in enough warm water to make the milk.  Keep the rest in enough warm water to stoke the rumen fires.  Open the barn door really fast, so I can catch a glimpse of sleepy goats curled up together before the morning chores kick into gear.  Then scamper through chores so I can go back and defrost before the next round of work begins.

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Cold critters, cold farmers, colder pipes

I had hoped to have things more winterized by winter (rule #1 of farm restoration: everything takes longer than it seems).  Freezing came, and we still don’t have water at the barn, and we still don’t have power upgraded, and we still don’t have the equipment shed fixed enough to move animals to it.  So we are back to hauling buckets of hot water.

Beasties are holding up fine.  Joy is a vital sign just as sure as temp and respiration; critters are testing 100% for joy.  ‘Pacas kick up their heels, goaties do the run-and-jump.  Nary a complaint, which is big because alpacas and goats are prone to complaining when our service isn’t up to their high standards.  (Hummm.  Maa!  Maa, I said!   Hummm!!)

Until the hard feeze morning, that is.  Queen Goat was complaining off the bat, her bucket froze over and she thought we should have tended it as soon as we reached the barn.  Still, just mahhing “waiter, oh, waiter!” rather than screaching, so she’s doing okay.  One small problem: Our supply of hot water quit.  We have a crappy well, so there’s a pressure tank to build up a supply of water sufficient to make water move.  Somewhere in the system, a gremlin quit the water.  No hot water at the tap, nothing to haul to beasties.  Nothing to defrost buckets. 

I had been to the farm store during the week, but the only bucket defrosters I found were not goat safe.  Chickens are easy – they don’t mess with cords.  Goats investigate everything, usually with their mouths.  When they bore of the novel new wired thingie, they go back to jumping and butting and playing and knocking things hither and yon.  I can’t put a simple power cord into a goat space – it has to be military grade.  I didn’t find military grade at the farm store, so we’re left hauling buckets.  No running water, no buckets to haul.  We got a small supply of hot water before things froze.  I chipped the ice out of the buckets, we added enough hot water to melt the rest.  Sips of cold water all around, frozen fingers back to the house for a minute to defrost.

I put a brooder lamp into the (already well-insulated after last year’s freeze) well pump house.  We waited.  Put a black bucket over a hose nib directly connected to the well.  Sun warmed things a smidge.  Put a heater in the garage, just in case the pressure tank lines are freezing just outside the house.  Hours later, water flowed.  Hot water visited all the beasties again.  Yay!  But we weren’t sure what problem we had fixed.  By bedtime, we had no running water.  Ack!  With the pressure tank, we don’t know when water stops coming in, just when the supply is too low to pressurize the lines.

We checked and checked anything we could think of.  In the meantime, we picked up a jug of water from the store.  I boiled water on the stove, piping hot water to melt the ice and make buckets liquid again.  Alpacas are drinking from a construction-site style water thermos; goats have double-buckets to try to insulate a bit, chickens have nice warm water from the water heater I have hated all year*.  Duck makes sad noises waiting for her delivery of warm water; as a single, her small water supply is quick to freeze.

Morning came and still no water.  Terror.  Our well pump is a submerged pump, an unusual style.  If we could get a well repairman out, he might not have parts available.  Well repair is another item that’s not in the budget (it was in the budget, but a year of farming while paying city taxes wasn’t in the budget, so now the budget is squeezed dry).  We had a contingency plan for well failure – rv water tank to hold a week’s worth of miserly usage.  Our contingency plan wouldn’t work when temps dipped into the 20s, and probably wouldn’t last a week of watering so much livestock, anyway.  Our backup contingency plan is rainwater harvesting, but that requires liquid rain.  Even the snow won’t help, it’s not deep enough to scoop up a good, clean quantity.

In desperation, we bought a pipe heat tape.  Removed all the insulation we had put on last year, put on heat tape, wrapped all the insulation back on, freezing fingers and toes.  And waited.  Anxiously.  Hours later, still no water.  I tapped on the water storage tank, empty except the bottom 12 inches.  More hours later, we turned on the tap, one last check before calling up a repairman.  Water!  Water!!!

It feels a little silly to say “I really like running water.”  But that is my truth. 


* The chicken waterer has a long cord that dangles below and tempts the chickens to play with it.  There’s a groove on the bottom for wrapping the cord around, but nothing to hold it to the bottom except a piece of tape.  Chickens peck at the tape until the cord dangles again.  When we’re outside freezing weather, it’s just a pain in the behind.  We finally retired the damn thing, but resurrected it when the nipple waterer blew out in the freeze.  The ones at the farm store now have a much shorter cord.

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