May 2011

For the first time in several years, we have a small abundance of milk, and we are absolutely loving it!!

After the baby goats were born, Sara proved to be a great mom.  She was very watchful and protective of her kids, and her and the doeling, Lilly, bonded fiercely.  As nature intended, Lilly sticks right with mom, and only nurses from her.  Dayjay, the buckling, on the other hand, is a typical adolescent boy!  He makes his rounds, accepting milk from whomever will give it to him.  He knows who mom is, but, for whatever reason, Lilac took a liking to him and lets him nurse freely.  And, he eats a LOT!  He weighs over 20 pounds at this point–still not quite twice what Lilly weighs. 

Lilly and Sara


Dayjay and Lilac

I was beginning to get frustrated with the milking process, as, twice a day, I would milk Lilac, and twice a day, I would never get more than about half a cup of milk.  Most times, I would get a few squirts and just wind up feeding it to the chickens.  Fearing Sara would not increase her production properly, I began milking her once a day as well.  Still, I never got more than a cup from both goats combined.  The kids were obviously thriving, so I knew both goats were producing, but I had no idea how much was being produced.  I was also concerned that with just one baby on each goat, they might produce milk unevenly in the 2 sides of the udder.  I tried keeping a check on that, but it was tough with so little milk in either side. 

Finally, when the kids were 2 weeks old, I seperated them one night, putting the babies in the brooder pen with the young chicks, and leaving both does in the goat pen.  It went much smoother than I anticipated.  I had expected noise and crying all night from somebody, but as it turned out, the babies only cried when they were alone.  As long as they were together, they were perfectly content.  For the first time, it was really nice to see Lilly warm up to us.  She has always tended to be on the timid, shy side like her mom.  Once she was on her own, though, she livened up, and even got friendly.   They just curled up for the night in the back of the brooder crate, and never made a peep all night.  Sara quit crying as soon as the babies quit.  Lilac, interestingly enough, made the most racket.  She cried for a bout 30 minutes or so before settling down.  All in all, I would say it went very smoothly. 

When Mom's away, the kids will play!

The next morning, I found the milk!  I milked Lilac first, since that what she was accustomed to, and she gave me almost a full quart!  She hasn’t done that since the first week I got her!  Then, it was Sara’s turn.  Oh, when I touched that poor girl’s udder, I felt really badly for her.  Her udder looked painfully engorged!  I couldn’t even milk her normally she was so full.  I had to literally use two fingers and just squeeze out whatever flowed into the teats until she was emptied enough to milk the proper way.  It was everything I’d read about, and I have to admit, I found great satisfaction in the process working correctly!  Sara wound up giving me a nearly 1/2 gallon!  Now THAT made my day!  But then, I’m pretty easy to please.

3/4 gallon of milk from one session!

So, that is now our routine.  I seperate the kids around 7 p.m., and put them in the brooder pen with some water and hay or grain to nibble on for the night (they don’t really eat solids yet, but they like to nibble at it).  Around 8 in the morning, I milk the does, and then put the babies back with them for the day.  I get about 3/4 of a gallon of milk each morning, and I am only milking once a day until we take the next step. 

3/4 gallon…not bad for a once-a-day milking from a first freshener and a first-freshener who has already been milked through for a year!  And finally, I have the luxury and surplus I need to make all the delicious yogurt and chevre (goat cheese) that we can eat!

S and I recently got to attend the graduation for the U.S. Air Force Academy.  That is quite an experience!  Thanks to S’s position, we actually got special tickets that allowed us to sit down on the stadium floor–near the graduating cadets.   FYI, we were going to sit on the 20 yard line, while the cadets sat on the 50-yard line.  This picture was taken when we first arrived, before the stands had filled. 

Once the stands filled with parents, friends and family, other class-year cadets, and active duty members, it was an impressive sight indeed!  Certainly not your average graduation! In fact, there was even a dress-code for those of us sitting on the stadium floor.  Not that you can tell from my winter parka (it was chilly!), but active duty had to wear their fancy mess-dress with “wheel-cap,” while civilians (and spouses) had to wear business formal attire.  All PhD. professors had to wear their PhD garb, so it looked like we were surrounded by all these scholars!  It was quite a spectacle. 

After a short ceremony by the Air Force band, the graduating cadets made their grand parade entrance.

There were many very-high ranking officials at the ceremony, and some were even there representing foreign nations.  The guest speaker is different every year, but always a famous and high-ranking individual such as the President, the Vice President, etc.  This year, we had the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, as well as the Secretary of the Air Force speak.

After the commencement speeches and fanfare, the cadets line up by squadron, and their individual names are called to receive their diploma.  Secretary of the Air Force Donley shook the hand of EACH graduating cadet as they walked past.  Now this may not sound like a big deal, but I gotta tell you, I felt sorry for the guy.  In this graduation, there were over 1,000 graduates!  Mr. Donley had to be exhausted at the end!  If nothing else, I’m sure his arm was totally numb!

During the final few squadrons, all the parents in the stadium traditionally bring their young children to a designated point, where they are handed off to a bunch of active duty folks, who then corral the kids down on the stadium floor, in anticipation of the next big tradition.  After the graduation is over, the cadets are officially “released” from their duty at USAFA, at which time, they toss their caps into the air.  The kids then get to run and collect a hat, before being returned to their parents.  1,000 stampeding through the field, mingling with the graduates, and collecting the hats is a quite a spectacle in itself!  I tried to get a picture, but it all happened so fast, the best I could do was a pic of the kids anticipating the tradition as they are coralled by the adults…

Finally, the 3 hour event concludes with a performance by the Air Force Thunderbird team.  The initial fly-over happens simultaneous with the “release” and cap toss, and since they fly over at about 500 feet, it is very impressive!  They give about a 20 minute performance of the aireal acrobatics they are so famous for, and fly so low at some points that no one is even allowed to park under the area. 

This event is something I have heard about all year, and was thrilled I got to attend.  It is worth seeing at least once in a lifetime.  Because these graduates are the next generation of our nation’s defense team, it is an event that requires a great deal of effort, planning, and special fanfare.  I highly recommend it if you ever get the opportunity!

With the completion of our hen coop, and the unexpectedly rapid growth of our animals, we have been doing a lot of pen cleaning and animal re-arranging. 

When the coop was finished, the hens moved from the goat pen to the coop for free-ranging.

Then, the turkeys moved from the brooder pen to the goat pen.

Finally, the growing chicks moved from the garage brooder to the brooder pen. 

All the birds are happy, foraging to their hearts’ content.  Of course, there are still many unknowns, but the plan is for the turkeys to be harvested in a few more weeks, so they are in their final pen.  The roosters and a few cull pullets will also be harvested, so those will likely remain in the brooder pen until harvest.  The only birds that will likely change homes at this point are the choice pullets and a lucky rooster or two that will be moved to the hen house to join the layers in a couple more weeks.

Last week, before this whole RSV thing came up, we finally got our chicken coop finished!  It was our last MAJOR animal project, so that is a huge load off our shoulders!  Plus, we have very happy hens!

We still have a lot of work to do on it, but can enjoy it now nonetheless.  We plan to free-range our hens as much as possible, so we wanted the coop to be semi-portable.  Therefore, we made it as light as we could.  You will notice the hodge-podge of lumber used….we built almost the entire thing out of scraps, purchasing only 2 sheets of plywood for the roof and the hardware cloth for the bottom. 

The front has a drop-down ramp for the hens to enter and exit.

The drop-down ramp and you can just see the wire floor--that keeps out predators and still keeps the coop lightweight.

 Just inside the door is the hanging feeder and waterer.

 We used the bare minimum wood we could to keep it lighter-weight and maintain portability, while still having it fully-functional.  Time will tell how well it stands up to the abuse it will likely encounter.

The center area is a combination of diagonal support beams (to stabilize the coop when we move it) and roosts. I love multi-functional things! I was running low on scrap lumber, so I used large branches we found around the woods for the roosts. The hens seem to approve!

 To reduce weight and still have sturdy nest boxes, S set the boxes half-in and half-out of the coop, so the boxes are actually stabilized and supported by the side wall itself. 

On the opposite end of the roosts are the nest boxes.

 The part of the nest boxes that stick out the side have a roof that lifts so we can collect eggs without going in the coop.

So that’s the grand tour of the new Hen House.  We still want to paint the thing, cut out a larger people-door on the side, so we can more easily access the feeder and waterer, and we are debating whether to replace the roof with plastic roofing (lighterweight) or just put on tar paper and shingles.  Soon enough, we also plan to have a lot more hens in there, so the nest boxes will get more use.  We designed it to be 6′ by 8′, so it should comfortably house 12-14 hens for roosting at night.  Since we free-range during the day and have several roosts for night time, we can get away with a smaller floor space (all they really do in there is sleep or lay). Oh, I do love happy animals!

Sorry for the disappearance.  R was, thankfully, released from the hospital on Tuesday evening, and sent home with oxygen.  The problem was, I then developed my own case of RSV and felt pretty lousy for a couple days.  Thank the Lord we rarely stay sick long, though, as I am finally on the mend and feeling much better.  I still get winded pretty easily, but otherwise, I am feeling pretty good.  RSV is a respiratory illness afterall, and we do live at 7550 feet altitude!  Needless to say, when you’re struggling to breathe to begin with, the lack of oxygen up here is easily felt! 

You can see R's air-converting machine in the background. We have about 27 feet of tubing, so we have to unplug her and wheel it around the house if we move more than one room away. Kind of a pain, but I'm glad it's not just a gigantic oxygen tank.

That being said, there are still some concerns we have for R.  Right after she was born, and for the first couple months when she had well-baby checks, we began to notice a regular pattern of her having low pulse-ox levels (oxygen levels in the blood) when they would check.  At first the nurses blamed faulty equipment, as her numbers would read in the low 80’s (it should be 95-100).  Over time, though, different equipment and even different offices always got the same readings.  Finally, her pediatrician ran some chest x-rays and blood work on R to rule out anything too concerning, which it did.  Since R had no indications of a lack of oxygen (like blue fingers or lips), the doc theorized that R’s fast growth was a factor, and it might be a minor issue she would grow out of. 

Then, this came up, and of course, her levels were in the low 80’s.  Thinking it was the RSV, they immediately put her on oxygen.  Then, the pediatrician at the hospital where she was admitted said they were looking for her pulse-ox levels to stabilize in the high 90’s before they would release us.  I explained that she had never been that high, told her R’s medical history, and she laughed, irritated the R’s normal pediatrician had stopped investigating.  She explained a potential pulmonary issue that, although not life-threatening, could cause problems later in life if not treated early.  While it isn’t very common, it is exaserbated at this low-oxygen altitude.  She immediately ordered an echocardiagram be done.  That evening, we got a really good look at R’s heart, her blood flow, and all the valves.  Very impressive technology, actually!  The results came back the next morning that there was something detected, but we have no way to know if it was the RSV causing it, or if it is the pulmonary condition.  The good news is, even if it is an underlying condition, the treatment is a short spell on oxygen.  So, they agreed to let us go home, but they put R on a sea-level rate of oxygen flow 24/7 (or as best as we can keep that pesky tube under her nose!)  When the RSV clears up, we will return to see the cardiologist for another echocardiogram, then go from there.  If you would keep the issue in your prayers, we would be grateful!

Happy baby!

It looks like the next couple days are going to be a bit trying for us.  R developed a cough over the weekend, and this morning it was pretty bad.  S took her in to urgent care, and she has a pretty bad case of RSV.  Thankfully, it doesn’t look like it has turned into pneumonia yet, but due to the fluid and mucus in her lungs, they are admitting her anyway.  So now, we are thankful to have friends who will drop their plans at a moment’s notice to watch our other kiddos, while S and I try to shuffle his work and being with R at the hospital. 

If you wouldn’t mind, please say a prayer for healing for my whole family.  This virus has been passed through every child now, and I am threatening to get it.  None of the children are totally over it, but the others are OK for the most part.  R is our big concern at this point.   Thanks in advance, and I’ll update when I can.

This weekend, we were blessed once again by our open adoption with R’s birthfamily.  Her birthmom graduated highscool, and they invited us to join them for the celebration.  It has been a rough year for her, between the pregnancy, the birth, the adoption, family troubles, then a later hospitalization for an unrelated illness, and yet, she still worked hard and managed to finish her senior year.  We are all proud of her, and eagerly accepted the opportunity to attend the ceremony.  After the graduation, we all headed to her house for a cook-out, where we also met more family and friends.  We were instructed to keep the adoption hush-hush, as there were others in attendance who were totally unaware that she had even been pregnant.  At one point, we even witnessed the shock on an uncle’s face when an immediate family member told him who we were and how we were “related.” 

My heart did skip a beat a one point, when a trouble-making family member (who was very against the adoption) showed up unexpectedly at the graduation.  The birthfamily explained that this person was bold enough to confront us if she figured out who we were, so we were, sadly, unable to associate with the birthfamily at all when this person was in the same room.  I felt like there were several times the person was eye-ing us closely trying to figure out what was going on, perhaps suspicious.  Then, as we were leaving, we tried to avoid being anywhere near them by just sneaking out the back door to head to the birthfamily’s house, but, wouldn’t you know, this person came out at the same moment!  We were within 2 feet of them.  It was almost humorous how the birthfamily jumped in, causing a distraction, showed absolutely no recognition towards us, so we just took the hint, and kept on walking–right out the door, and past the trouble-maker.   Whew!  Close call, but it all worked out just fine. 

So, now, I have more priceless pictures to add to R’s scrapbook.  I have pictures of many of her family members holding and loving on her, admiring her chunky little fat rolls and charming smile.  I pray there will be no doubt in her mind that she was loved by all!

I think we began an annual tradition today–Rabbit ‘Fest 2011.   READER BEWARE!  There are very graphic images below!

We have had a number of people very interested in witnessing, or even assisting with, our rabbit harvest.  S finally came up with a plan, sent out an invite to those most interested, and we planned a big “family day.”  The plan was to have the men harvest the rabbits, the kids would get a biology and anatomy lesson as well as a lesson in farm life, and we would all have a potluck lunch and family farm day. 

As it turned out, only 1 family wound up coming.  Nonetheless, we had a great time.  Except for the fact the hens decided not to lay this morning so the visiting children could collect the eggs, we spent the first couple of hours just fellowshipping and eating lunch.  All the kids had a great time showing off the animals, and playing with the goat kids and the baby chicks.  Finally, it was time for the dirty work (sorry, Uncle D, you were too late!).  The men headed out back and set up their harvesting area, while the kids let the rabbits have some play time.

Happy Lala running around the pen, completely oblivious to the fate that awaits her litter.

Once everything was ready to go, M said her goodbyes.

A well-loved bunny, having no idea he is being carried for the last time.

Our visitor, T, wanted to learn how to harvest rabbits, so S was to give him lessons–based on his own limited experience, of course.  To help prepare for the day, S actually harvested one rabbit last night so his technique was fresh in his mind.  Then, the plan was to harvest 2 rabbits at a time, with each man doing one simultaneously, until all 6 were finished. 

The time finally came, 2 bunnies were randomly selected, and we made all the kids go to the front of the house for the actual kill part.  S has used all 3 methods (2 ways of breaking neck and clubbing), and has decided his preferred method is the club.  Done correctly, the rabbit never knew what hit him, there is absolutely no suffering, and that is the way we prefer it.  Once the rabbits were dead, hung, and bled, we allowed the kids to return to watch. 

These kiddos are looking more fascinated than traumatized.

The first step was skinning the rabbits:

Rabbit skin peels off like a glove (at least that's how S describes it--I wouldn't know).S wants to learn how to tan rabbit hides, so he bundled the hides, put them in a ziploc bag, and put it all in the freezer. Next, the guys had to eviscerate, or gut, the rabbit. In our homeschool days, both of our families have been discussing anatomy, so this part had the children totally enthralled. Intestines being loosened.

Once the intestines were removed and the guys reached a stopping point, T, a former pre-med student, offered an in-depth biology lesson, while S continued to clean up the rabbits. 

S pointing out the major organs.Our friend, T, disecting the heart and showing the kids the chambers and valves.

This is where farm life makes homeschooling so awesome!  We turned what could be considered a morbid part of farm life into a hugely educational opportunity for the kids.  The guys pointed out all the organs and discussed their functions, opened the stomach, and discussed the contents and inner workings of the muscles, opened the heart and described blood flow, pointed out how the kidneys and bladder worked together (as the kid got to watch the bladder empty on the ground), showed how everything was connected, and so on.  After the rabbits were cleaned and put in ice water, the guys went even farther, both for function and an anatomy lesson.  In order to tan the hides the old-fashioned way, S had to collect all the brains.  So, upon child request, they dissected a skull, removed the brain and showed the components, removed the eyes and showed how they connect to the brain, then dissected the eye to show how the inner eye functions, and any thing else they could come up with. 

Will--surrounded by rabbits, raw meat, and offal--acting totally oblivious and chewing a stick.

 The children didn’t seem too traumatized, and after the anatomy lesson, they left the guys to harvest the rest of the rabbits, and ran off to play.  Once in a while, a child would meander back and ask a few questions about the process, but, surprisingly, even the most sensitive of the children seemed to enjoy the educational aspect of it all. 


After the rabbits had some time to chill, S had to finish the job, re-cleaning and cutting the meat into cookable pieces. 

Then, I took the rabbit from last night, which had already been cut up, and fried it up for everyone to sample. 

Fried Rabbit nuggets

We had a wonderful day, I think our visitors had a great time, and we are really considering doing this again.  It was such a great opportunity for “city-folks” and homeschooled children to get hands-on with animals, and to learn so much.  In addition to the rabbit, we taught them how to milk the goat, let them sample fresh goat’s milk (which they loved, by the way), and answered a day’s worth of their questions.  After the time we have spent dreaming of this life, we truly enjoy being able to share these blessings with others.

We were invited on a work function with S this week.  It was an “alternate duty location,” in order to do some team-building for his work.  It is an annual event, and seemed to be a pretty big deal.  Each year, people go to a campground called “Farish,” and they get there in different ways–some drive, some bike, some ride their motorcycles, and some make the 7.5 mile hike to 9000 ft. elevation, through the mountains and canyons.  S, of course, doesn’t do anything the easy way, so he decided to go for the hike.  JR, however, refused to be left behind.  So, that morning, everyone met at the trail-head for the hike, and I was left home with the other 4 kiddos to pack the car and drive up, where we hoped to meet JR and S. 

7 Men, 2 Ladies, and 1 adorable little boy

It’s days like this when I love homeschooling!  Not only did JR get to spend the day with his daddy, but he also got a great education in nature.  Another man on the hike is a master gardener and plant expert, and most of the guys were active duty and had been through survival training.  JR learned a few things along the way.  For snacks, they tried wild strawberries, indian paintbrush, and juniper berries, plus a few other plants.  Of course, when they tired of eating nature, they thoroughly enjoyed mom’s homemade granola bars! 

Taking a break by a mountain reservoir.

Once they arrived, I found them in the conference center preparing for the first meeting of the afternoon. I took JR and the rest of the kids, and found our little cabin–a little one room structure with a set of bunk beds and a full-size bed. Seeing as how we had 7 people, I had to get a little creative.

JR and M on the top bunk, N and A on the bottom bunk, R on a pallet on the floor, and S and I on the full bed--at least that was the starting plan.

The view from our cabin was absolutely gorgeous!

View from the front porch.

Fortunately, it was a good view, as the rest of the trip was not quite as wonderful as I had hoped.  I wound having 4 coughing and sick kiddos, S wound up in meetings for the majority of both days, the clouds rolled in, it snowed, and the baby was freezing all night.  Between the coughing kids and crying baby, S and I got very little sleep, then, when it snowed the next morning, tired little N wound up incredibly cranky.  So, I left early and S caught a ride home.  Oh well.  It was a beautiful place to visit, and we hope to go back–when it’s a bit warmer and S is more available to help out.  After a good nap at home, we were much better by evening.  Best of all, JR, made some priceless memories with his Dad!

Yesterday was our first goat-kid-disbudding experience.  Perhaps next year I can have pictures, but suffice it to say, disbudding is not a pleasant experience.  I didn’t know how, so a very kind fellow goat enthusiast and, coincidentally a vet, offered to do the deed for me.  I hauled Lilly over to her house yesterday and she gave me a lesson.  Not knowing exactly what to expect, I opted to leave the kids home, lest they be plagued by nightmares for the next 10 years.  Without pictures, it is difficult, but I will try to explain as best I can….

The gruesome event involves heating up a hot-iron of sorts (this one was electrical) that is shaped like a hollow cylinder.  Then, we shaved her forehead area to make the little horn buds easier to see (Lilly’s weren’t as developed as DayJay’s).  When the iron is hot enough, the kid is held so she can’t move (several ways to accomplish this), the iron is placed over the bud, and held in place for a set number of seconds–in Lilly’s case, it was 12 seconds.  The iron literally burns a hole almost down to the skull, and it stinks to high-heaven.  And yes, it hurts the baby.  Then, the lady placed an ice bag over the burned area, which simultaneously cools and numbs the area while also sticking to and removing the thin layer of tissue that covers the horn itself.  She then took the hot iron and burned the horn itself until it resembled a “copper penny” in look and size.  She explained that’s when you know you are done.  After one side is done, you repeat the process on the other horn bud.  When the process is complete, baby looks like a mutant for a few days.

Once it was over, Lilly settled right into my arms, and seemed none the worse for wear.  She didn’t appear to be any pain, though I wouldn’t touch the area and find out, poor thing.  I arrived back home, and put her back with mom, and she went right to nursing. 

 I have also been debating removing Lilly’s wattles (the 2 little things hanging under her neck).  The vet told me it was fine to do so, and said the method of “banding,” or, in our case, tying thread tightly around them, would be perfectly acceptable.  I guess I’m gonna go for it. 

So, I can imagine a good number of my city-readers are asking why we would subject our critters to this.  Let me explain.  This is an area we have debated and gone back and forth on for quite some time.  We love the idea of our animals being all natural, just the way God designed them.  Finally, though, we realized there were a few problems with the natural notion. 

You see, although natural is great, our goats are not, and cannot be all natural.  That changed the day the goat was domesticated.  The fact that we are keeping our goats confined in pen, no matter how big, means they aren’t completely natural.  An all-natural environment would include lots of rocks and hills to file down their hooves and rub their horns on to control growth.  Our forested area is far from that ideal.  All natural would not involve massive, milk-producing udders, which is something our goats have been selectively bred for.  It would also not involve multiple goats or people in confined areas–for any length of time.   By domesticating the goat, we have, in essence, made ourselves somewhat responsible for assisting in their welfare.  We are responsible for feeding them for good milk production and helping maintain the health of those udders we bred them for.  Even if they could be turned out to eat all brush and find their own food, during the peak milk-production season, those udders are so unnaturally large that they would be torn to bits by the scrubby food that goats love.  Because there are no rocks or the massive space required to keep the hoof growth under control, it is now my job to trim the excess growth.  Because I want good, healthy milk, I must feed good, healthy feed.  We are also now responsible to some extent for protecting them and others from injury.  Horns can potentially cause great damage to large dairy udders.  They can get caught in unnatural fencing.  Worse, yet, I have personally witnessed my most timid, standoff-ish doe, Sara, head-butt little N right into the fence.  Imagine if she had horns and that happened!  My first and foremost responsibility in this situation is to my children, and ensuring their safety around these large animals.  Goats aren’t mean by nature, however, they also don’t know how powerful they are.  Whether they come and playfully rub or butt a child, or defensively charge, either way, horns have the potential to inflict great injury.  That’s what God designed them for–to protect the goat.  On our farm, however, with our numerous young children, we just can’t risk it.  Thus, the horns must come off.  We have finally decided that a few brief moments of pain for a baby goat saves us the possibility of many severe injuries to both goats and people. 

The wattles are another issue.  Although it isn’t entirely necessary to remove them, the problem in our situation develops when the doe has her babies (or any other doe in the same pen).  Based on my research, the only real issue with wattles is when you let the does nurse their kids naturally (which we have chosen to do).  Apparently, kids often mistake the wattles for teats, and cause tremendous irritation to that area.  We don’t have personal experience here, but have learned that the easiest, most painless time to remove them is when the doe is a baby.  So, in the hopes of preventing future problems, I will be removing her wattles.  This should not be a painful process, though.  I guess they are comparable to the “skin tags” that people get.  When they are tiny, you can easily band (or tie a thread tightly around), which basically just causes the tissue to die and fall off.  The vet told me it posed significantly less risk of infection or complication by doing it this way, rather than trying to surgically remove it later, should a problem develop.

So there you have it.  We believe in treating our animals as naturally as possible, but by having domesticated them, we must strike a balance between turning them totally loose to nature, and providing the necessary care to allow them to thrive in our humanized environment.

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