December 2011

Isn’t the idea of self-sufficiency so neat?  Think about it.  With a little extra work to feed animals and clean pens, you can have creamy, wholesome milk, fresh, healthy eggs, beautiful, clean, safe meat, and more to eat.  If you are baking and need an egg, there is no need to run to the store, rather, you just run out to the coop and get one.  You can use your surplus milk to make cheese, yogurt, kefir, and so much more.  Table and garden scraps, surplus eggs, milk, and other dairy products can all be recycled by feeding right back to the animals, increasing their nutrition.  Some surpluses like milk, eggs, and extra critters can be sold to bring in income, which in turn can keep the hubby home from work.  If the animals are raised using natural or organic methods, then prices can fetch a premium.  Male animals can be studded out, all the above can be used for bartering, and the list just goes on and on and on!  It’s a perfect world!

Or not.

You could also have a flock of laying hens that refuse to lay.  You can have a herd of goats and not a single one producing milk.  You could even have a colony of rabbits that don’t reproduce!  Which is exactly where we find ourselves at the moment.  Our layers don’t lay, our rabbits won’t breed, we think most of our bees may have died off, our goats don’t milk, our donkey is getting increasingly cranky in her pregnant state, our livestock guardian pup has hit a phase where she has far more fun chasing the chickens than guarding them, and there is so much snow outside that my work load, and the animals’ feed consumption has doubled. 

Amazing to think that, after 8 months of our new farm life, we have reached the point of…..umm….memorable adventures and purchasing our milk and eggs from friends whose herds and flocks are doing so much better!  No doubt it takes the idea of self-sufficient into a more meaningful and truthful realm of God-sufficient.  Truly, we pray daily right now that God would bless our efforts with production. 

Of course, the goats not milking were my choice.  I had 2, and chose to dry off both simultaneously–Lilac because she was due to kid in 8 weeks, and Sara because she was being bred and I wanted to improve her health.  Then, we bought our other 3, all of which are hopefully bred.  So, we have high hopes that Lilac will soon be supplying us with some delicious milk, as she is due to freshen in just 2 more weeks.  We are holding out faith right now that our other goats will have healthy pregnancies, produce healthy kids and an abundance of milk, and that we will be able to easily sell the surplus goats (Lilac, Sara, and most of the kids) for a price that will help us break even from this year, and possibly put us a bit ahead for next year. 

We have made lots of changes to our layer coop.  We have added artificial lighting to increase their “day” hours, I have increased the protein in their feed, we built a supplement feeder to ensure they are getting all the grit, calcium, and nutrition they could possibly need, and we are even considering insulating the coop somehow.  So far, we are getting 1-3 eggs each day, which, although an improvement over 2 weeks ago, still leaves us short of eggs.   It doesn’t help that one day the light works fine, and the next day something goes wrong and it refuses to turn on.  Nonetheless, we are praying that our layers will increase their laying soon, so they can earn their keep around here.  The good news is that, despite winter being in full throttle, we haven’t lost a single hen to the cold or to the fox.

We have also made a lot of changes to our little rabbitry.  One of our American Chinchilla does proved infertile (I even hired a proven buck to make sure), my buck decided to quit breeding, and my final hope for our AC breeding program, a little doe, up and died this week.  I have no clue why.  So, that’s it for the AC’s–at least until we move to Red Gate.  In the mean time, I was ready to throw in the towel, but S wanted to try again with a new set of rabbits.  I managed to buy out someone else’s rabbitry since they were moving.  We got a pile of crossbred Harlequin and Rhinelanders.  Although smaller than the AC’s, they are acclimated to our altitude and environment, seem to be very hardy and prolific around here, and the cross adds a good bit of hybrid vigor.  The smaller size will be better for JR to handle them.  We got a few too many (intentionally), including a mother/daughters set that get along really well, with which we are hoping to start our colony run soon.  So, as soon as we clear some space by harvesting a couple of excess rabbits, we are praying that our new rabbits will do the rabbit thing and start procreating. 

Athena is experiencing some big changes.  I have intensified her training quite a bit.  I had to take her to the vet for her rabies and distemper shot recently, where she proved to be 54 lbs at just 5 months old!!  She is growing so quickly, and becoming so independent, I decided it was time to introduce some basics.  We are working on not chasing chickens or chewing goat tails, walking on a leash, sitting, and coming when called.  We have also allowed her in the house a couple times just to expose her to something different.  In addition, I have been socializing her a bit, as she was starting to bark at any person that came around–even if we were with them, which we don’t want.  We are having to make changes to her diet as well.  As much as we love the BARF diet, she is currently eating around 5 lbs of meat each day, in addition to occasional bones, grains, fruits, veggies, eggs, and other raw foods.  And she is still on the lean side.  After we were blessed with an entire flock of chickens that S spent a total of 8 hours butchering, and will soon do a couple rabbits, all to feed the dog for about 2 weeks, we realized it is no longer sustainable.  Had she been a chihuahua, that would be one thing, but we can’t afford the time involved in keeping such a massive and fast-growing pup fed this way.  So, we are backing off.  In the hopes of being able to try again in the future, we are simply cutting her BARF diet in half.  She will get one meal of all-natural kibble each day, and the other will be some sort of raw food like she is accustomed to.  This will hopefully keep her system functioning well, and keep her healthy, but allow us to back off on the amount of meat we have to collect just for her. 

Finally, we aren’t sure what’s going on with our bees.  After almost 2 months, we finally had a day recently when the temps crept over 50* out, which meant the bees could come out of their hives.  I only saw activity around one hive though.  I fear the other 2 may not have survived the transition.  In the mean time, S has been doing a lot of research.  We fear we may have been sold hives that had some known problems (which explains the great deal we got!), so he has been researching what to do about it.  We are hoping to use some natural, chemical free methods that have been proven in several other countries to essentially sterilize all the empty hives, and then start fresh with new, clean trays for the bees to build on.  Once the bees wake up from their winter dormancy, and the pollen starts flowing, we hope to transplant the surviving bees into the sterilized hives, and then sterilize their old hives as well.  We figure it can’t hurt to try. 

Needless to say, we are holding out hope that this is just one of those dry slumps you hear about, and that, God willing, the new year will bring with it a great deal of production and success on our little farm.  I have to tell you, though, we are learning to trust and rely on God through all this.  Despite the slump in our own farm production, God has provided, and we haven’t had to inrease our trips to the grocery store at all.  We always seem to have a friend with surpus eggs or goat milk just when we needed it.  We have had goats, rabbits, and chickens donated to us almost as fast as we could take them.  Not once have we had any shortage of meat, and just when I start rationing the milk and eggs, it seems I encounter one of our friends with a surplus.  We have even had an offer to supply us with an entire batch of Araucana peepers in the spring, so we won’t have to buy any, and we will have some fresh ones to raise to replace our older and lazy layers next fall.  It’s a great reminder that we should never be discouraged, and that God will always provide for our needs!!

Today, I was kind of a bad mommy since I spent the day doing some catch up on projects while my house-help was here.  I have no excuse, but just never got around to dressing A, who was wearing JR’s old hand-me-down pajamas all day. 

When S got home from work, he asked A, “A, why are you still wearing your pajamas?”

A replied, “No, these are JR’s jammies!”

S rephrased, “OK, then why are you wearing JR’s pajamas?”

A:  “Because they’re too small for him!”

S just shook his head and gave up.

It was high time Shiloh earned her keep around here.  We had a foot of fresh snow on the ground, we needed to create some trails to help with our farm chores, the kids wanted to do some sledding but there are no sledding hills around, we needed to deliver some Christmas pastries to the neighbors, and I had a donkey bored out of her mind in the pen.  I decided to deal with everything at once, and have a ton of fun while doing so!

I called JR to help me (he has become my donkey-lover-in-training), and told him my plan.  He was as eager as I was!  Then, we tried to go step by step, which is pretty easy and fast with a donkey.  Mind you, before I go on, I want to note that you do have to be careful working a pregnant equine.  In Shiloh’s case, she is ridden for short periods of time on a regular basis, and occasionally for longer periods of time.  As she gets bigger, I ride her less, and allow the kids to do most of the riding to prevent stressing her.  However, although I wouldn’t introduce anything very strenuous in her current condition, lightweight pulling is much easier than carrying a rider, which is why I decided to do it.  OK, back to our adventure:

  •  First, we brought out a somewhat pregnant (about 7 months at best estimate) and onery donkey jenny.  I worked her for a minute to improve the attitude a bit.  She seems to be cranky a lot these days, as her pregnancy progresses.  Oh well.  I remember feeling that way, too! 
  • JR groomed her while I gathered together a makeshift harness.
  • I reviewed her ropes training, to ensure she was desensetized to ropes all over her still.  Of course, she was fine.  She is pretty laid back for the most part.
  • Then, I got creative.  I know the parts of a good harness, but the problem is, I don’t have one.  So, I made do as best I could.  If there are any experienced drivers out there, please don’t yell at me.  A harness is in our future plans, but in the mean time….
  • After “harnessing” her up, I worked her a bit in circles to give her the feel of the straps all over her. 
  • Once she seemed comfortable, JR led her around while I walked behind and applied increasing amounts of pressure to the straps, simulating her pulling something. 
  • When she was fine with that, I led, while JR pulled the sled behind her, getting her aquainted with the noise of the sled. 
  • Finally, we hitched her up and let her pull the empty sled, followed by JR getting on the sled and riding while I led her around. 

All that work only took us about an hour from start to finish, and we had the beginnings of a sled donkey!  Here is a photo of her first time pulling JR:

After our training session, we were ready to go have some fun!  We bundled up the kiddos, S got the camera and the pastries, we strapped some jingle bells onto Shiloh, and off we went down the ice-and-snow-covered, dirt road.

Because it was Shiloh’s first time, we didn’t want to overstress her.  For longer stints, we limited the weight to JR and N, or we put M, A, and N on together.  Although S and I both had to try it out, neither of us rode very long.  I’m sure she would’ve been fine, but again, between being in foal and her first time under harness, I wanted to keep the experience as easy and pleasant as possible. 

After we delivered the pastries around the neighborhood, we jingled our way back home, and let the kids take turns riding the sled at a walk and trot, as I allowed her to flatten out walking paths in the snow for me to do my farm chores.

After it was all finished, she got a quick hoof maintenance trim, and got to return to her pen. 

Why, you might ask, would I go to all that trouble to hitch her up, when we could just pull kids on a sled? 

Because I can.  Because it’s waaaaay more fun to be pulled by a donkey than mom and dad–especially when she trots.  And because mom and dad wear out much faster than Shiloh does.  Besides, I love the sound of jingle bells and hoofbeats.  That’s why. 

Just for fun, we took a few video clips of our little adventure.  Enjoy!

We had a wonderful Christmas, full of joy, blessings, giving, and love.  It was a bit different this year, in that we found ourselves with 4 children who understood what presents under the tree were (instead of the 2 last year).  While each child certainly had their list of “wants,” there were no complaints after they received what we thought would be most useful.  It was also a great deal of fun have JR and M old enough to earn allowances throughout the year, and buy gifts for each other as well as their brothers for the first time. 

Around here, it all starts on Christmas eve, when we gather around, Daddy leads us in a little devotional to ensure everyone remembers the real reason for Christmas, and we all open one gift.  This year, we chose to open our gifts from Uncle S and Aunt P (my brother and sis-in-law).  Although I forgot to take a pic, S and I got a wall decor piece, made of Alaskan driftwood (they live on Kodiak Island), tied together, and then they had fixed Alaskan stones to spell out “Proverbs 22:6,” one of our favorite family versus.  I love the rustic nature of it, and feel it fits our home perfectly!  We even have just the spot to hang it!!  The kids received handmade hats.

The kids loved their hats so much (all except R, who is at that age when she absolutely refuses to wear ANYTHING on her head–but don’t worry, Aunt P, she’ll be able to wear it next winter too!!), that all of them decided to wear them to bed.

I won’t bore you with too many details, or go through each and every gift, but here is a few of our favorite photos of the day…….It starts with reading the Christmas story from the book of Luke (don’t you just love N and A’s enthusiasm as they listen to Dad read while eyeing the presents?):

Little R got a Raggedy Ann doll from Grandma

M got a princess dress, complete with crown and wand.

The kids all received a neat little 3-D, coloring gift from our neighbor.

S gave me 2 huge stainless steel pots so I can more easily boil down tomatoes, applesauce, and even water-bath 1/2 gallon jars of cider next year!

JR and M also handmade a couple of gifts for S and I.  My camera doesn’t do it justice, but JR came up with an idea for a magnet, and with no help, created it totally on his own:

 He found a bottle cap, turned it into a mini-skillet, punched a yellow paper hole for scrambled eggs, and cut 2 tiny strips of paper for bacon, then used his elmer’s glue to put it all together.  It graces the front of my fridge now!

Just for fun, here is a quick video clip of M opening Grandma’s gift.  (oh, by the way, Grandma is a big-time John Deere fan!!)

The kids received lots of other little gifts as well.  Thanks to the issues we are battling with A right now, many of the gifts were focused on sensory input, fine motor skill development, or education.  Of course, their absolute favorite, was a totally justified Craigslist find (since A really needs the practice with balance and coordination, as well as a means of expending energy, right?!)

Boy, let me tell you, trying to get the kids all in bed early on Christmas eve, so S and I could assemble the tramp in a foot of snow, temps in the low 20’s, and using only lantern light created memories I’ll sure never forget!!

We were so eager to see their faces when they discovered the tramp on Christmas morning!!  How were we to know that N’s morning ritual is to look out the window?  Next thing we knew, all 3 boys came racing into our room at 6:30 in the morning, talking excitedly about the new trampoline in the woods!  Apparently, N had looked out as usual, and said, “JR, der’s a twampoline ow-side!”  I didn’t even know my 2-year-old knew what a trampoline was!  Oh well, so much for that surprise.  No doubt they are all enjoying it though.  Even in the frigid temps, they make sure to get at least 30 minutes of jump time each day! 

All in all, it was a wonderful, relaxing day, celebrating the birth of our Savior.  We also started a new tradition this year, and that is to give each of the children a themed Christmas ornament to remind us of a memorable event that occurred that year.  R got assigned Precious Moments, M got Willowtree Angels, A got Bears, and I’m still trying to figure out a theme for the other 2 boys.  This year, though, JR accepted Christ as his personal savior, so he received a frosted glass cross to help comemorate the event.  The intent is to create a meaningful collection of themed ornaments for each child, that they can take with them when they move out on their own one day, and at the same time, help give them glimpses of their past Christmases with us. 

I hope each of you were equally blessed in some way this Christmas season! 

Yesterday was A’s greatly anticipated and much dreaded follow-up appointment with his pediatrician to review his metabolic lab work.  Praise God, we finally made headway–just barely!   Because of the non-chalant, seemingly unconcerned attitude the doc has previously shown, S decided to accompany me on this visit–in full Lt. Col. uniform.  There isn’t a cocky, “better-than-though” bone in S’s body, but we have found the uniform with rank insignia can sometimes help garner a bit more respect and attention. 

When we first arrived, A was in another of his zombie-like states, just sitting there, with no expression on his face.  The doc walked in, gave us a copy of all his labs, and over about 6 pages containing about 50 different test results, we immediately noticed that a significant number of the results had “H” written beside them (for too-high levels).  Within moments, however, we realized we weren’t going to get far as the doc began explaining away and justifying every abnormal result with excuses like “not high enough.”  Once, he made the comment that he wasn’t concerned until the values were 2-3 times higher the normal.  S flipped through the pages, and found at least 3 values that met that criteria, being at least twice as high as normal, and said “What about these?”  The doc tried to explain them away as well.  We were both getting increasingly frustrated. 

After the labs were discussed, the doc started going through “concerns” that the results might be indicative of.  He mentioned cystic fibrosis as a common condition displaying some of those results, but A didn’t have any of those physical symptoms.  He then mentioned 2 other diseases, neither of which A had symptoms for.  Finally, and I appreciated his humility, he admitted the problem….”A just isn’t fitting into any of my ‘little boxes.’ You’re right, the labs show something is going on, but they aren’t consistent with standard conditions.  I just don’t know.” 

We talked a little more.  He was more understanding throughout the remaining visit, but we still hadn’t completely convinced him we needed a referral.  Then, just as he was preparing to excuse us, I had a thought pop into my head.  I had totally forgotten about a new symptom A had begun showing, and had meant to ask about it.  I call it divine intervention for putting the thought in my head at the last moment.  In any case, I said “Oh, by the way, I meant to ask….in the last few weeks A has developed an increasingly frequent “tic” of sorts, squeezing his eyes shut.  Should I be concerned at all?”  The doc literally sat up, looked at me, and said, “Wait a minute!  Does he stare off into space?  Does it take you a minute to bring his focus around?  When does he do this?” and an assortment of other questions.  By the time he finished asking, S and I both looked at each other, knowing exactly where this was going.  And we were both shocked that the idea had not occurred to either of us, after our experience with JR.

The doc finally said it,”It sounds like he’s having absence seizures.”  Also known as “petit mal seizures”, these are little tiny seizures in the brain that can cause all the cognitive symptoms A has been having, to include his regression in cognitive thinking as the seizures get worse. 

Let me just be clear here.  We don’t KNOW he is having these seizures.  They can be very difficult to identify based on behavior alone.  But it was something that gave us a direction to go in.  The doc immediately referred us, first, to a neurologist who focuses on that area, then to Early Intervention for a complete developmental work-up.  Once those are completed, we will be getting another lab panel done with more emphasis on hormones and endocrine function, at which time we will follow up with a pediatric endocrinologist to make sure his hormone functions are working correctly, and because his several of his amino acid levels were way off in the metabolic profile. 

So, we still don’t know much more than we did.  But we have direction, and we have been referred to specialists who will be able to direct us better.  For that, we are grateful!  Now, things get busy, though.  Since the doc is finally on the same page as we are, he wants these appointments completed as soon as possible.  He is going TDY (military business trip) for a month, and he is hoping both the neurologist and EI appointments are done by the time he returns.  Of course, it’s Christmas, so that will slow us down some, but we’ll certainly try to get it done.  Thankfully, we seem to have a hired a wonderful lady to help us out twice a week, both around the house and with childcare.  She has truly been a blessing to me, with all she helps accomplish, lessening my burden tremendously.  We also have a dear friend who has offered to babysit whenever we need it.  So, depending on when these appointments get scheduled, it looks as though our other children will be taken care of.  As difficult and overwhelming as medical issues and appointments can be–especially when we are already so busy with life in general–it is always reassuring to see that God provides exactly what you need, when you need it, to ensure our entire family is provided for.

Silly as it sounds, I have been struggling a bit lately with the idea of raising our animals in the all-natural way we dreamed of.  Our chickens were the final clincher.  Those pesky girls almost stopped giving eggs nearly 2 months ago thanks to our natural-as-possible viewpoint.  That’s right, out of 16 hens of laying age, I was getting about 3-4 eggs per week!  Since we can easily use 2-3 dozen eggs a week, this was a big problem!  In the mean time, they were free-ranging to their hearts content, and eating up over $40 in organic feeds each month.  They were hardly paying for themselves.  In fact, I even had to go BUY eggs several times!

My empty nest boxes.  The eggs you see are the wooden eggs we keep in the boxes to encourage laying there.

You see, we had done our research.  We knew that hens would decrease the number of eggs they laid in the shorter day-light hours of winter.  I figured, however, that God had allowed their little bodies a period of rest, and I wanted to respect that.  I knew the decreased laying could be overcome by artificial lighting, but we had decided we didn’t want to go that route.  We would learn to simply reduce our egg usage a bit in the winter.  In order to prepare, though, we tried to increase our chances for as many winter eggs as possible by having a variety of laying hen breeds, a nice coop, and a variety of ages that should all be laying by winter. 

We first realized we had a problem when our spring pullets, the main ones we were counting on for winter eggs, turned 26 weeks old in September, and still weren’t laying.  I continued monitoring, looking for pullet eggs, as the older girls’ egg numbers started to decrease each week in the decreasing light of day.  Finally, one day in mid November, I got an obvious pullet egg!  I was so excited!  The pullets were laying!  The next day, we got no eggs.  The day after that we got another pullet egg…just one, though.  I figured that since that one girl had started, it was no big deal that the older ones seemed to have stopped.  I just knew all those other pullets would start up and follow suit any day!  Weeks passed, and still no more eggs.  Just our one, faithful, little Light Brahma pullet, providing us with our one egg, several days a week. 

Now, in all my research, I not once came across a situation where the hens stopped laying entirely, so I feared it might be a dietary or altitude issue at first (we do live at 7500 feet!).  I started talking to our friends who, for the most part, were also of the all-natural mindsets.  The more people I spoke with, the more stories I heard about entire flocks ceasing to lay in winter.  Then, I discovered that even our all-natural friends were using artificial lighting to get eggs. 

S and I talked about it, and came up with a few conclusions.  First of all, our older hens had laid just fine until the winter light hours, so that pretty much ruled out dietary issues.  I had also read that young pullets who don’t start laying before the winter light hours arrive, may NOT start until spring–thereby causing almost 4-6 months loss in production.  Considering the average homestead hen only lives 2 years before being turned into stew, this is a huge portion of her productive life!  And we were half-way through it already!!  Finally, it dawned on me that, yes, God designed hens to have a break.  But, he also designed them to potentially live 10 years, and possibly more.  So, if we plan to butcher the hen around age 2 anyway, then perhaps she doesn’t need that much of a break each year? 

Finally, although I knew that it is impossible to be all-natural with each type of animal, I garnered a different perspective.  Everything is different in nature.  Horses are not ridden by people in nature, goats can find their own food, animals roam for miles, and most of today’s chickens would not have even existed in pure nature.  They have been bred through domestic need.  In addition, God blessed us with animals, and gave man dominion over them.  For the first time, I felt like it was OK to find the compromise where we work to keep our animals happy and healthy, thereby being good stewards, but also expect to get something out of them in return.  That is where the dominion comes in.  That is why we can have the right to disbud goats, castrate animals, use cages and pens, saddle and ride horses, and even slaughter animals for meat to feed our families.  We simply must find the balance to keep them as healthy and happy as possible in the mean time. 

Suffice it to say, out of desperation, we finally gave in.  We ran an extension cord out to the coop, set it up with a timer and light, and took the girls from 11 hours of light each day to about 15 hours of light (the minimum we felt would help jump start egg laying).  The first day, we got nothing.  The second day, we got a new pullet egg (different than our previous laying pullet), and the third day we got 3 eggs all total.  You could say it is coincidence, but considering we haven’t gotten 3 eggs in a single day in almost 2 months, this is a big deal!  Today, we only got 1 egg, but I know it can take a couple weeks for newly laying pullets to become consistent.  I am very excited at the hope, though, that maybe we will soon be getting eggs since it looks like the young pullets are finally coming around.

Between our over-sized flock of not-laying hens, and our 5 not-milking goats, we are planning to do a lot of things differently to prepare for winter next year!!

I’ve been trying to capture random moments of childhood sweetness and innocence.  Here are just a few of my favorites (sorry, A and N just don’t usually hold still long enough for these types of photos!):

First, JR proudly displaying his new-found riding skills.  It thrills this horse-lovin’ (OK, equine-lovin’) mommy’s heart to no end that at least one of my children might actually follow in my footsteps.  Perhaps he will become the horse-whisperer (or, in this case, donkey whisperer) I always dreamed of being, but just doesn’t seem to be in God’s plan for my life.

Yup, he’s riding bareback (mainly because it would be pointless to fit Shiloh with a saddle while her belly is expanding so rapidly!), with a bridle, all by himself.  Unfortunately, it eventually resulted in his first fall when she sped up and he lost his balance, but he hopped right back on like a good cowboy must!  He is proving to be a natural, with excellent balance (most of the time), soft hands, and calm demeanor. 

All that riding can be exhausting.  JR was caught totally sacked out on our couch one afternoon.  So cute…..but wait….what is wrong with this pic?

Here’s a better angle….

I have no earthly idea how they wound up in this position, but Callie, the cat, was as unconscious as JR was (though, in her case, who knows..she might literally have been unconscious from strangulation!)  Don’t worry, though, she eventually woke up and seemed none the worse for wear. 

Then there’s M.  I’m sorry, but that girl is so stinkin’ cute when she is sleeping.  Since she sleeps in the craziest positions and in the strangest places, I can’t resist taking photos. 

Here’s M in our bed one night:

In her bed (I don’t have a clue where her blankets are)….

She was playing in our family closet one day, and it got very quiet.  I discovered she had crawled into the actual closet in our family closet room, pulled the dresses off the hangers, and made herself a bed.  She totally dozed off…

Here’s one of my favorites of M on a snowy day, just enjoying the splendor of God’s beauty…..

And who can resist a great shot of sisters?

Which leads me to R.  R is developing at an incredible rate. I sometimes don’t realize how big and capable she is becoming.  This fact was demonstrated recently, as I unpacked our weekly CSA produce.  R crawled into the kitchen, and discovered a bag of apples.  Figuring she wouldn’t know what to do with an apple anyway, I let her go, thinking it would keep her entertained and out of trouble. 

After I finished putting away the other food, I reached to get the apple from her, only to discover she had successfully eaten over half of it!

She has also learned to climb the stairs, and to stand unsupported, practicing her new-found skills all day long.  She definitely keeps me on my toes!

We are truly blessed with our 5 beautiful, happy children.  The other day, I encountered a young, pregnant woman, and we got to talking.  It was clear she had heard the old adage, “Your life will never be the same once baby is born!” only, it usually has the typical negative conotations when most people say it.  I have begun making it a habit to re-assure such mothers, “Your life will never be the same–you will soon experience more reward and blessings than you could ever imagine!!”  She looked at me, as if to see if I was serious (which, of course, I was, as I firmly believe that!), and said simply, “Thank you.”  It was sad, as though she had wanted to believe that children were a good thing, yet, the world around her was trying its best to convince her otherwise.

“Thank you, God, for each of our blessings, and for opening our eyes to the fact that children are a miracle and gift, directly from you!”

We finally got to pick up our second Alpine doe this weekend.  We found and bought her sometime ago, but weren’t able to get her until this month.  She is a 5 year old, Alpine doe from beautiful lines.  Many does and bucks in her lineage, as well as her and several of her daughters have won a number of championships and/or earned milking stars.   Her confirmation is beautiful, with a great udder, beautiful teats for hand-milking, and a history of excellent production.  Her past daughters are beautiful, and have proven themselves time and again.  With bloodlines like Rancho-Snowfall, Windsong Pines, Redwood Hills, and Iron Rod, we are incredibly excited to welcome her into our little herd as a foundation dam.  She is currently bred back to a Harmody Alpines buck (Susan B’s Elvis), so we expect the kids will be top quality babies, with lots of bold color!  Welcome to your new home, Onyx!

According to several experienced goat-y friends we have around here, we have experienced more unplanned and unwelcomed goat-related adventures in the last couple months, than most of them have experienced in all their caprine-raising years. 

So, this week, we experienced some crazy adventures with the neighbor’s bull (read here and here for details).  What I didn’t mention was that the same day as Part 2 happened, one of the neighbor’s does came into heat (the same neighbor who owned the bull).  Now this is a big problem for us.  Ever since our Alpine buck, Stallion, learned to jump his fence a month or so ago, I have taken precautions to prevent him from doing so again. I re-configured his hotwire, did some “training” (if that’s what you want to call it), and worked with the neighbor to keep him under control.  One of the problems was that the neighbor had bartered with us a while back to breed her does in exchange for storing our hay in their barn.  It seemed like a good deal at the time.  After the first doe was bred, however, Stallion realized they existed over there, and they realized he was over here.  That wasn’t necessarily a good thing.  Nonetheless, we always  made it work.  We would either keep the cycling doe with Stallion for the whole day (until he calmed down and got off his testoterone “high”), or they would lock the doe in their barn to keep her from crying out to him.  It worked for the most part.  The sad part, however, was that, due to his antics, S had decided that we should sell Stallion.  Someone bought him almost right away, but were planning to pick him up on Christmas eve. 

Well, Friday mid-morning, I was outside working in my pasture, and heard one of their does screaming.  I walked over to the fence to check on things.  Her doe was looking for Stallion, flagging her tail, and obviously in standing heat.  I knew it was a doe they had really been hoping to breed, so I called the neighbor, figuring either they needed to lock her up or bring her over, lest she or Stallion jump the fence and get together on their own terms.  The neighbor chose to bring her over right away.  We put her with Stallion, where she spent the day.  Both goats were happy, and the neighborhood was once again at peace without her screaming. 

Then Part 2 of the Bull Saga happened.  Finally, around 9 pm, we wrapped up with the bull and began closing things down for the night.  We verified, that, as expected, the doe’s standing heat was long gone, and her and Stallion were both calm and acting typical.  Nonetheless, as an additional precaution, we had learned to always take Stallion out first, put him with our does (who are all pregnant), so he can go into their shed and eat–allowing a good distraction while the visiting doe is led away.  Again, it has been working so far.  So, S and the neighbor went through the routine, got Stallion settled with our girls, and then the neighbor led her doe quietly home.  No sooner did they get home, Stallion came running out of the shed, and lept right over the does’ gate, half-destroying it in the process.  S caught up to him in our front yard, when he couldn’t find the doe.  S returned him to his hot-wired pen (which he hadn’t attempted to escape from since I re-configured the wiring), and monitored….for all of about 5 seconds, at which time, he lept cleanly over the electric wire, totally clearing his fence with the agility of a reknowned acrobat.  

It was late, we were tired.  We called the neighbor, and asked for her doe back.  I went and got her, and she spent the night with Stallion.  The next morning, we tried again.  Same thing.  Despite the fact the doe had been thoroughly bred about 18 hours prior, and had absolutely no interest in Stallion whatsoever, he refused to allow us to take her away.  The doe had to return home, so we had no choice but to temporarily tie Stallion to a tree in his pen so he couldn’t jump. 

There was still hope, though.  I can’t recall if I told you I had lined up my second Alpine doe almost 2 months ago?  Well, earlier in the week, we had scheduled to pick her up on Saturday.  It was Saturday.  We hoped that by bringing this new girl in, we could just put her in with Stallion, and effectively calm him down.  So, I left S to monitor Stallion, since he was tied to the tree, and I left to go pick up our new doe.  As an experienced show goat and milker who was quite pregnant, the  5-year old doe was a bit shy around me, but once we got her away from the other goats, she just ran around the barn, cleaning up crumbs, eating of my hand, letting me pet her, and otherwise acting like you would expect such a goat to act.  We loaded her right up and I drove home. 

We never got to see if our plan would work.  When I arrived home, as I have always done in the past, I very carefully opened the back door of the van just a bit so I could slip my arm in and clip a leash on.  I felt a powerful bump against the door, and when I peeked under, there was no goat!  For about a split second, I was stumped.  What happened to the goat I just paid good money for?!  Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her bolting…amazingly fast for such a pregnant girl….away from our house and deep into the woods!   OH BOY!  I almost cried right there.  I yelled at the kids to go get S to help me, and I took off, trying to circle around her and direct her back toward our goats.  Unfortunately, with her black coloring and the forest shadows, I quickly lost track of her.  I looked for her tracks in the snow, and discovered for the first time that deer are obviously frequent visitors around our place!  There were fresh tracks everywhere!  I searched for over an hour, praying fervently almost the whole time.  After a while, I knew I had to check in with the family and get some juice to keep my blood sugar stable, so I ran back to the house.  The kids told me someone had called.  I checked the message, and it was another neighbor about 2/10 of a mile away through the woods, claiming a goat was peeking in her window. 

As it turned out, just like those pesky, wild wethers a few weeks back, S found the doe and she took a peculiar interest in him.  OF ALL PEOPLE! 

Now don’t get me wrong.  I love that animals like my husband so much.  But, he has almost nothing to do with their day to day care.  Other than his occasional filling in, I am the one that trudges out in the snow twice a day (usually more) to feed, I mix and measure their grain, I sit in the stall and just love on them, I stay up at night when there is something worrisome, I ensure they are warm in frigid weather, I deliver their babies, I milk them, and yet every nutcase of a goat we have gotten takes right to HIM, while I have to earn their trust!  What is up with that?! 

Anyway, after a minute, the exhausted doe walked right up to him and let him grab her collar.  He led her home.  She was already stressed out and nervous, and we had seen her jump some pretty good sized logs in her quest for freedom, so we didn’t want to take for granted that she might try to jump the fence.  We put a leash on her, put her in Stallion’s pen (where he was still tied, but it was the most secure pen we had), and then just allowed her to explore the pen at her leisure.  After about 15 minutes, she seemed quite a bit calmer, would eat of my hand, and allow me to touch her.  We decided against releasing Stallion since we feared he might stress her into jumping the fence.  Instead, we decided to put our 2 smallest, youngest, and therefore least intimidating does (Bell and Faith) with her to keep her company and give her someone to bond with.  We kept her on leash for about another 15 minutes, until they all seemed comfortable with each other.  Then, we said a prayer and released her.  She seemed OK.  After another 30 minutes, we slowly left the pen.  She seemed fine.  We praised God for letting us catch her, and for seemingly allowing everything to turn out OK. 

We still had Stallion to deal with.  Whether from the week’s events, S and I being physically exhausted, or just being tired of goat antics, I don’t know.  Maybe it was a combination of everything.  Whatever the case, we knew we couldn’t leave Stallion tied to that tree forever, but he was still acting like an testosterone-driven idiot.  So, we decided to call the buyers and offer to let them pick him up that day.  Thankfully, they agreed, and within a couple hours, they arrived to pick him up. 

I untied my stinky, ole’, sweetheart of a buck from his tree, offered him a drink of water, and led him toward the truck.  Being the experienced, driveway-breeder, buck-in-rut that he is, he saw a truck in the driveway and instantly got excited!  He just knew there was a doe waitin’ for him somewhere!  He half drug me to the truck, searched high and low, and acted a bit confused that he couldn’t find her.  You can imagine his surprise when S and I lifted him into the goat cage in the back  of the truck and slammed the door shut.  He looked at me with the most pitiful look.  I almost cried.  Nutty and pesky as he was, I loved my buck.  I loved the way he cried so pitifully everytime he saw me, and how he usually wanted nothing but a little loving. 

The buyer and I settled our business transaction, and then she drove away with my beautiful buck–taking my big plans for my foundation sire with her.  It was so bittersweet.  I was relieved to have one less mouth to feed, and to know I likely wouldn’t have to worry about any more broken gates or fencing, or playing musical pens to keep him happy.  At the same time, I would LOVE to be able to purchase him back and take him to the farm with us when we go (we have first option should they choose to sell). 

So that was our Saturday.  Now, I am just hoping that Faith doesn’t come back into heat this week.  She was thoroughly bred 3 weeks ago, so this will be the first chance to see if she took.  We made arrangements to use Stallion as part of the sale, but still.  They live some distance away, so it would take a lot to get Faith over there. 

I am still so surprised at all the mis-adventures we have had lately.  We research, we plan, and we prepare as best we can.  I totally understand now why folks say that goats , and bucks in particular can be the hardest animals to contain.  The great thing is that Stallion more than paid for himself by breeding all my does and all the breeding services he gave for barter or cash payment while we had him.  With the kid sales we hope to get from him, he will have even paid for the new Alpine, who, praise God, we still have!  More on her later.  Despite the loss of Stallion, though, I have to remind myself that this whole “mini-farm” experience has been our big experiment for learning the ropes of farming.  So far, we have learned some great lessons, that are sure to last in our memories for years to come.  These lessons are driving us to build a much better farm at Red Gate than we might have otherwise, as we can now envision the “what-if’s” that we couldn’t before.  I know there are still many lessons to be learned, but I’m hoping with Stallion’s leaving, that we will get a break from the biggest lessons for a while.

With 5 children in the house, I frequently find myself taking a headcount.  The fact that hide-and-seek has become a favorite game recently doesn’t really help me keep track of them at all.  Thankfully, God has sent winter temperatures to the outdoors, so at least I can usually be sure they are in the house somewhere. 

The other day, M came up missing.  Funny noises were heard coming from Will’s (the indoor dog) food storage bin. 

Upon further inspection, we found the missing child (smelling a bit like dog kibble):

All you really have to do is say something to make them laugh.  They give themselves away every time!  I think that little fact is one of God’s many gifts to mothers of young ones who like to hide!

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