January 2012


After my recent adventures with a sick goat and layers roosting in the nest boxes, I finally got a break over the last few days.  In fact, things have really started looking up in several ways….

Lilac is doing great.  Her mouth is continuing to heal, I have not had to treat for anything, and her appetite has returned.  She still won’t eat as much grain as I would like, but I’m pretty sure it’s because she is always so intent on her babies.  As rambunctious as they are, they are a handful, and when they run in opposite directions, poor Lilac has a fit keeping track of both of them. 

No worries, though.  Faith seems to have taken on the role of big sis and playmate, and is always eager for a game of headbutting with the little guys.  Since we got her, she has proven to be our most playful, and still acts very much like a youngster herself.  Hopefully she will mature a bit in the next couple months, before she delivers her own kids!

"Aunt" Faith and the boys

This weekend, I seperated the babies and Lilac at night for the first time.  That was an adventure in itself as cold as it was, and trying to ensure they stayed warm!  In any case, Athena the LGD, has been assigned kid-duty, so after giving her some opportunity to get to know the babies, and vice versa, Athena now moves between pens each day and night.   Lilac proved to be an incredible milker.  I have never before seen her full potential since she had been milked through and almost dried up twice before I got her.  Now, though, the babies nurse all day, then I take them away at night to sleep on their own.  About 12 hours later, I milk Lilac, and return the babies to her.  Every morning milking, I get 3.5 lbs, which is about 6 cups!  Oh, I can’t express the relief to finally have our own milk supply again!!

The other goats are doing equally well.  Sara is looking gorgeous, and she is starting to look heavy in the belly as well.  She has her playful moments, but she has really matured and grown up a lot (in every way) in the last 4-5 months. 

Faith and Bell are best buds, and you rarely see one without the other.  They are about the same age, though I find it interesting since their personalities are so different.  Bell is a people-lover, and won’t leave my side when I’m out there.  She is calm, easy-going, and generally laid back.  Faith, on the other hand, is Miss Independent, only allowing pets when she wants them, and just goes non-stop.  She is also our trouble-instigator now that Stallion is gone.

Bell

Onyx is odd-woman out.  She hangs out with the other girls, but hasn’t really bonded to any one in particular.  She lets me pet her on her terms (usually around feeding time).  She is my next doe due to kid, and her belly is huge.  She is built wider than my other goats anyway, but with that baby belly, she just seems massive to me.  Hard to believe she has almost 5 weeks to go!

Athena is coming around and gradually earning her way back to pasture-guard duty.  Since we lost two chickens to her playfulness, she had lost that privilege, and was never turned out unsupervised.  She was also not obeying well when off leash.  The few days we had her in the house around her spaying proved highly beneficial in every way.  It encouraged me to give her some work on leash, and she bonded a little more to us.  As a result, she is listening and obeying sooo much better, and we can now trust her a lot more.  Her big problem now is simply the fact that she is a 6 month old pup, and gets bored very easily.  She is digging large holes all over the goat pen, and occasionally chases the goats or tries to play tug-of-war with one’s tail.  She has proven quite gentle though, and has never gone overboard.  All the goats except Bell will put Athena in her place when they have had enough, and though I haven’t witnessed it, I suspect the others stand up for Bell too.  She is better with the chickens, as long as we remove her from the pasture within about 2-3 hours.  Otherwise, she gets bored and tries to play with them.  She is a good pup most of the time, though, and we are truly enjoying her.  I figure another 6-12 months and she should calm down significantly, and be much more trustworthy.  In the mean time, good, dependable, ole’ Will gets to pick up her slack with pasture guardian duty.

Shiloh the donkey has become the single animal on our farm that does little to earn her keep.  Between the snow, ice (I haven’t seen my front yard in 8 weeks from the inches of ice on top), cold weather, and other priorities, we have not been riding her at all–even for therapy.  She has been getting a little more onery toward the other animals, though I don’t know whether it is the progressing pregnancy making her cranky, or what.  I learned she is absolutely NOT trustworthy around the baby goats when I made the mistake of turning all the goats and donkey out in the pasture one day.  We have done this regularly, but baby goats were never part of the mix before.  Somehow, one of the babies got seperated from mom, and before Lilac could get to it, Shiloh went after him.  Thank the Lord, I happened to be walking by the door when it happened or she no doubt would have killed him.  She was bucking, stomping, kicking, you name it.  I couldn’t believe my gentle donkey had turned into an attack animal!  He was so tiny, I think she had trouble keeping track of where he rolled to each time she hit him.  Thankfully, as soon as she heard me yell, she stopped, and I ran out and retrieved the baby who, amazingly, turned out to be just fine.  He ran off to mom and started nursing to calm himself. We have not allowed her out with them since.  So, now I have to rotate them through to make sure all get sufficient exercise.  She is still a sweetheart toward humans, though, and we tend to be optimistic.  Therefore, we are seeing her current use as a producer for our varied compost pile, an eater of our goat-waste hay, and an eater of the pasture grass that the goats don’t care for.  Once we get the pasture cleaned out and a bit safer for riding in, JR is planning to do a lot more riding since I won’t have to be there all the time if he is in a fence. 

The rabbits seem to be doing well.  We got part of phase 2 of the pen accomplished, in that we laid down some 2×4 welded wire fence along 2 edges of the pen to stop the tremendous amounts of burrowing they were doing in those areas.  We are still waiting for a bit more ground thaw and an opportunity to drive to the correct store to buy the type of pipe of we need to finish the rest of it.  In the mean time, we are hoping at least 2 are pregnant.  I arranged for a little date between a harlequin doe and buck, which proved a success, so she will hopefully deliver in about 10 days.  She has delivered before, but this was the little bucks first time, so we’ll see.  I am also hoping that Pelham, our AC buck has bred another of the harlequin cross does and/or the AC doe, both of which run loose in the hare-pen with him.  They have been together right about 4 weeks now, so it could, theoritically be any time that one of the girls delivers.  I hope. 

Phase 2 of the hare-pen construction

We aren’t sure how the bees are doing.  They only come out of their hives when temps are over 50*, and that has only happened about 3x this month.  One hive wakes up, but MANY dead bees have been tossed from the hive on those warm clean-up days, so we have no idea how many remain.  We think we observed life from the other 2 hives one day, though,  it also seems that the good hive bees are actually entering the other 2 hives and stealing the honey out.  I fear we may have lost both of those.  We are starting to think we got suckered into buying a batch of sick bees, in hindsight, but we are hoping this one will survive, and give us a good, hardy colony to go into the next season with.  Once the weather warms up, S is going to work on sterilizing all the hives, transplanting the live colony into a clean hive with more natural comb frames, and see what happens.  We aren’t expecting to harvest much honey this year, but we are hoping to learn a great deal from the experience. 

Finally, I am thrilled to report that I have not had a dirty nest box since I added the curtains last weekend!  I now get 6-8 clean eggs each day, and my nest boxes are nice and tidy.  Now, if I could just convince that old rooster to love on the hens equally, rather than singling out just the 2!  They are starting to loose too many feathers where he stands on the poor girls all the time. 

Guess that wraps up this farm report.  Thanks for reading!

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We recently celebrated R’s 1st birthday.  It is so difficult to believe that it has been a year since she was born.  Time truly goes faster with each child we have!  She started walking about a week ago (though she still cheats and crawls on occasion).  We got a real treat when her birth family agreed to join us for the celebration.  For their privacy, I must limit or disguise the photos, and withhold all video, but we had a lovely time with them–except for R, who is going through a “cling-to-Mommy” phase, and wanted nothing to do with them. 

I spent the morning making a carrot-cake (the overall favorite of our family).  Shortly before lunch, her birthmom and grandparents arrived, and we all gathered for lunch.  As a general rule, we keep birthdays pretty small and just-for-family–especially for little ones.  

For some unknown reason, R was absolutely terrified of her biological grandfather.  He is a rather tall, large guy, and he has a moustache, so I can only assume he overwhelmed her somehow.  She eventually let her birthmom hold her just for a minute, and she would occasionally play peek-a-boo behind Daddy, or sit in my lap and play with her birthmom. 

They were patient, though, and everyone took tons of photos.  Her birthmom actually made a photobook for her, but sadly, it didn’t arrive in time.  I am truly looking forward to receiving it, and storing it for when R is older.  What a treasure that will be some day!!  Grandma (S’s mom) gave her Raggedy Andy to complete the Raggedy Ann doll she got for Christmas, and we gave her a little push-and-ride, solid wood, zebra. 

So, once again, I am out of the infant stage.  In case you lost track, we have a 1 year old, 2 3-year-olds (A and N), a 5 year old (M), and a 7-year old (JR).  I don’t feel old enough yet, but we are certainly blessed! 

For your enjoyment, here are a few extra photos taken during an impromptu photo session with R recently….

For the last 2 weeks, I have been very busy with my goats.  I have been busy caring for Lilac in particular, and equally busy learning from new, frustrating, and unexpected experiences.  Before I go further, please know that everything has turned out just fine, and Lilac is now doing great.  If you are interested in details, read on.  I’m sorry, but it is a very long post.  This post is actually written more for my own future reference rather than readers’ enjoyment.  However, if it can help someone along the way, great.

I have spent the past 9 months (since we got goats) studying, researching, experimenting, and learning how to make a goat thriving, healthy, and happy.  Sara was my biggest learning project to date, and she is doing exceptionally at this point, with a rapidly expanding baby belly, and looking better than I’ve ever seen her.  Things have been going well, and I was looking forward to kidding season.

Then, about 3 weeks before Lilac kidded, I noticed she had some tapeworms in her poop.  She still had normal pellets, though, and I understand that late pregnancy hormones can sometimes give worms a foothold, so I just monitored.  Otherwise, everything was fine with her.  Then she kidded, and we lost one.  That was my second clue something was wrong.  2 days later, the tapeworms were much worse, and her stools were becoming like cow patties.  I put her on the Hoegger 3-day herbal dewormer regimine that I always used for Sara.  Her stools couldn’t make up their mind though.  One day, she was normal, then they would be loose.  I was about to chalk it up to post-natal hormones screwing her system up.  Within a couple more days, she wasn’t eating her grain as well.  That was a first.  She has always loved her grain.  At the same time, though, she would eat hay, corn, and any treat I offered her, but not her grain.  I was puzzled.  I researched milk fever, remembering something about a low appetite, but she had no other symptoms.  As a precaution, though, I did give her some extra molasses water and vitamin C.  I figured I would just give her some time to get her system in order.  As the days passed, there were no new symptoms, but I just felt something wasn’t right.  Her stools had also become a consistent clumpy mess instead of pellets, though she never had scours.  I have been milking her since 3 days after the kids were born (we desperately need any amount we can get right now), so I was able to closely monitor her grain-eating.  It would fluctuate a bit, but she never once cleaned her bowl.  Then, the tapeworms returned.   

One morning, I walked out, and something on her face got my attention.  Upon closer inspection, I realized she had something wrong with her mouth.  I remember seeing photos in an article I had read in the past, so I ran to the computer to confirm my suspicions….scabby mouth.  Depending on which article I read, it was called Goat pox, scabby mouth, or Orf.  All articles described it as a virus akin to human cold sores and chicken pox, and it was supposedly highly contagious–both to other goats and to people.  The good news is that it is not serious, just ugly, runs its course in a 3-4 weeks, and then the goat is immune for life.  The only danger is if the scabs got so bad the goat stopped eating much–in this case, medications were required.  I came across all sorts of remedies to treat the symptoms and try to prevent spread and misery, but all articles implied misery was involved and it had to run its course.  By the time I finished reading, I was envisioning a half-bald goat by the time this thing ran its course–and that would be a nightmare since she has been sold for pickup in a couple months.

You can see the scab at the corner of her lips. It is bluish-colored because I had already been treating with the copper solution for 24 hours when the photo was taken, and the copper residue tends to stick.

My first question was “Where did it come from?”  She hasn’t been around any outside goats in at least 2 months.  Secondly, since she has always been so healthy, “Why did it happen?”  I ran to the source that I have begun to trust most…Pat Colby’s Natural Goat Care book.  I looked under all names to make sure I covered my bases.  Each one said the virus could be in the feed or bedding (some of which we buy from outside sources), and even the soil (which had goats on it before we moved here).  Sure enough, she said a healthy goat would not be affected, although it could be a carrier and transmit it (Onyx, Faith, or Bell maybe?)  Even then, however, a goat with sufficient copper would not break out.  The good news, according to Colby, was that a goat did not have to suffer, and you didn’t have to deal with an outbreak in the herd or a bald, scabby, miserable goat.  A simple topical solution of copper, cider vinegar, and water applied for a couple days should clear it right up  (So simple…it’s amazing that so many professionally-written articles don’t know this!).  Then, I looked into the tapeworm issue.  Wouldn’t you know, according to Colby, tapeworms hate copper worse than all other worms, and their mere presence indicates a copper deficiency. 

So, I immediately isolated Lilac and the babies from the other goats (just as a precaution if my theory was correct, and it was contagious), and started her on a 1% oral copper solution twice a day, in addition to the copper/acv topical applied twice a day.  I figured it certainly couldn’t hurt anything.  Within 24 hours, it was obvious the scab was not spreading, and another 24 hours resulted in the scab falling off.  To my utter astonishment, after 48 hours of the oral drench, tapeworms made a mass exodus from her intestines!!  I don’t mean to imply she had a horrible outbreak–she didn’t (I have seen much worse in dogs back when I was a vet tech!!), but I have just never seen them all come out simultaneously.  It was pretty impressive, actually!  She was on the treatments for 3 days, the wound was healing, and I saw no further signs of tapeworm. 

A few more days passed, and Lilac began eating less and less.  It was obvious she was not thriving, but I just couldn’t figure it out.  There was nothing physically wrong, the babies were doing great, the mouth sore was clearing up, and she eventually reached a point where she wouldn’t even take treats.  Then, I noticed Lilac puffed her hair all up and began shivering–a sign of decreased body temperature.  I called my friend and experienced goat mentor and explained the situation.   She suspected (with me) that Lilac had milk fever, aka hypocalcemia.  Essentially, the goat is unable to properly utilize stored calcium for the sudden milk production after kidding.  She gave me an oral drench (CMPK), and some Nutri-Drench for energy.  I gave both to Lilac, stopped milking her (the kids were still on her, but I didn’t want to deplete any more of her energy), and waited.  (FYI, I learned after the fact that concentrated calcium–such as CMPK is very caustic and burns.  I learned because it felt like the tiny little wound on my hand was on fire, and poor Lilac was miserable for several hours afterwards.)  The next morning, there was no change or improvement, and I noticed her rumen sounds had decreased.   She was beginning to look pretty rough, and she was hiding out in her shelter a lot. 

With goats, there seems to come a point of no return (or so I’ve heard).  There comes a point, if you wait too long, where a goat will just give up and die.  I had been monitoring Lilac closely, and although she wasn’t at that point, I definitely didn’t want to risk it any longer.  I was baffled, she wasn’t improving, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on.  As you know, I realize there is a place for modern medicine after the alternatives have been tried, and I feared we had reached that point.  S agreed to paying the vet bill, because it was a learning experience.  So, I took Lilac in to the vet.

The vet walked in, drew blood and tested her calcium, magnesium, potassium, and a few other CBC levels.  Everything was pretty normal.  The calcium and magnesium was fine (ruling out milk fever), no signs of infection were shown (ruling out an unborn baby or retained placenta), he ruled out Ketosis, and nothing was clearly wrong at first.  However, her temperature had dropped from the normal 102* to 100* (which caused her to shiver and fluff up), and there were few rumen sounds (which implies her rumen function had slowed drastically). 

He gave me his educated and experienced theory, and combined with my earlier observations, here is what it likely boiled down to… For some reason, the latter part of the pregnancy depleted some of Lilac’s copper.  We have since discovered that our ground water may contain high levels of molybdenum.  This may have caused a deficiency, which also caused the pro-longed labor.  The stress of later pregnancy hormones, in addition to the decreased copper, likely allowed the tape worm to take root.  This all combined to create a very mild stress for her body, which would otherwise have been very simple to overcome.  However, the actual delivery of multiples sent her stress level over the threshhold, so to speak.  For some unknown reason, sometimes an overly stressed goat will experience digestive upset, essentially, which allows their rumen function to slow down.  This, in turn can throw off their entire system and eventually cause an entire shut down of organ functions.  Apparently, this is what happened to Lilac.   The decreased rumen function messed with her entire system, which allowed the scabby mouth to take root.  (FYI, the vet was not at all concerned about the mild, healing sore).  She was apparently a very healthy, hardy goat, as apparently, this process often happens within hours of delivery.  In Lilac’s case, it took 10 days, and she was still going when I took her in, just not thriving like I wanted.  In any case, he pumped her rumen full of oil, gave her some Banamine and antibiotic injection, and sent her home.  He said to give her 24 hours and see what happened.  He also sent me home with 2 additional antibiotic injections to be given over the following 2 days to help prevent enterotoxemia.

By that evening, Lilac was nibbling at her hay.  I freshened up her hay, pellets, and grain, and made up some warm molasses water with dolomite and VitC.  Before bed, I also gave her a dose of Nutri-drench.  Interestingly, I also freshened up her straw bedding, and Lilac attacked the straw with a vengence, eating it as fast as she could.  I suspect it was akin to a dog or cat eating grass when they have an upset tummy.  She knew what she needed.  The next morning, Lilac was out of her shed nice and early, nursing her babies, and starting to look more alert.  A few hours later, all her puffy hair disappeared, and she was talking to me again for the first time in several days.  I put her and the babies out to pasture, and she seemed back to her old self.  I offered her some Kefir (excellent natural probiotic), which she obviously hated, but willingly drank.  I eventually put her back in her pen, and she finished off the little grain I had given her, plus ate much of her pellets and hay.  That evening, I also gave her a dose of Probios (more probiotics), to ensure all the gut bacteria was sufficiently replenished since she was still on antibiotics.  She is now well on the mend, and looking much better.  She lost a bit of weight during the ordeal, but I suspect she’ll put that back on pretty quickly. 

Lilac is back to her old self--eating, talking, and being the ever-protective momma.

Which leads to the big question of “How do I prevent future occurences?”  I am convinced the diet is great, as I have done so much research, I have compared to other natural herds, and Sara, of all goats, is thriving on it.  I have found out several other does have recently delivered twins or triplets in our local area (within a couple miles of us) in the last 2 weeks, and have suffered similiar complications.  Several lost the entire kid crop, experienced premature births, I know of one uterine prolapse, and two families lost the doe and all 3 triplets.  Just this morning, my mentor’s doe successfully delivered triplets, and within hours, it appeared that her rumen began shutting down as well.  By nightfall, she was totally off her feed and her back legs were paralyzed.  Thankfully, my friend caught it early, gave her the needed supplements, and the doe perked back up by morning.  Still, it’s strange.  I know complications can potentially happen with any birth, but I am beginning to suspect an issue with our ground water in the area–perhaps an unusual increase in the molybdenum levels.  Molybdenum in itself doesn’t typically cause a problem, but it acts as a binding agent for copper, essentially rendering most of the copper useless to the animal.  Because goats have such high copper needs anyway, they would literally have to eat it almost constantly to allow the molybdenum to be used up, then have a copper surplus available for processing into the body.  Fascinating, but frustrating nonetheless.  The stillborn we had may well be related.  Because my girls have access to ridiculous amounts of copper, is likely what allowed Lilac to remain so healthy through the ordeal, whereas none of the other goats lost recently had nearly the copper my girls do.  We are  considering having a water test done, but in the meantime, there seems to be something contributing to a copper shortage, but only when stress is added to their system (ie. late pregnancy and delivery) does the issue become a big problem. 

In order to be pro-active, I have started adding small amounts of copper sulfate to the grain for everyone.  I am keeping a very close eye on the other girls, but so far there are no signs or symptoms of worms, scabs, or anything else unusual.  However, if I see any symptoms of the goat pox or a worm infestation, then I will treat with copper immediately, as I would know they are short on reserves and it would only get worse as the pregnancy progresses.  Onyx, in particular, is due in 5 weeks, and she is HUGE!!!  She is also the only solid black goat I have (meaning she has higher copper requirements), and she still has some very light sheen on her black fur I am monitoring.  In addition, I have learned the entire rumen issue could fairly easily be prevented, or at least improved with different treatments.  So, I am preparing for our next delivery by having probios (probiotics), Bovi-sera (a harmless, natural serum for overall pick-me-up), slippery-elm herb to mix with my dolomite and Vit.C in case the rumen does have issues, and some Nutri-drench as a more balanced pick-me-up than molasses.  I have also purchased Vit A,D, &E paste, and Vit. B Complex Paste as backup pick-me-ups.  One thing I learned through all this, is that the great thing about natural remedies is that, unless abused significantly, they are incredibly safe.  Because these items are normally found in good feeds, the body can easily process them, and typically, any excess will just be passed out of the system.  It was neat seeing that the doses of copper, nutri-drench, and CMPK (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium paste) had done nothing to affect Lilac negatively, as seen on her lab work.  She simply used what she needed and stored or expelled what she didn’t.  Obviously, you wouldn’t want to go overboard (hence the reason I like the 1% copper solution–too much copper can be fatal, but it is very difficult to OD a goat with such a mild solution).  I bought the other items based on things I wished I’d had on hand through this.  For example, through all the research I have been doing the last couple weeks, I now understand that Bovi-sera injected at the first sign that she was a little off may have well kicked her system back into gear and avoided everything else.  The same may have happened with a good dose of B-complex. 

In the mean time, if anyone has any other recommendations or ideas regarding why this type of copper shortage is happening, I would greatly appreciate hearing them!  I would also love to hear about what you do to be pro-active.  I don’t want to go injecting my goats with anything unneccessary, since every injection poses its own risk.  I also aim to breed for and keep hardier goats that are low maintenance.  If, however, it is an environmental factor at play, I’ll just have to figure out what it is and deal with it.  I confess, I have been very worried for Lilac.  Having such a small herd allows me to get to know my goats very well, and any little thing that’s “off” with them is quickly noticed.  Nonetheless, I had a few very nervous moments, said a few prayers, checked her continually at all hours, and everything seems to have paid off now.  Thank the Lord for His blessing, the vet for his knowledge and meds, and my mentor for her insights.  As frustrating is it was at times, once again it was invaluable learning experience for me.  I just hope I don’t have to use anything I learned any more this year!

As if I didn’t have enough challeges in daily life right now, I have also been battling an issue with my hens. 

Oh, I’m thrilled to report they are finally laying!  I estimate that about 7-9 are laying regularly, as we get 5-7 eggs every day now, with 6 most days.  I suspect I know who isn’t laying, as we never see them in the nest boxes.

Except at night.  Which leads me to my latest battle.  You see, hens are supposed to use the nest box ONLY for laying an egg.  As a result, that means the nest box stays nice and clean for the egg, and the egg doesn’t get contaminated with chicken poo.  However, when they roost (sleep), they poop right where they are, making a big mess–including when they roost in the nest box.  I was having to rinse my eggs every day.  I tried the old “go out after roost time and shoo the hens out of the boxes” trick, but it wasn’t working.  Every day I was finding messy eggs, and it was causing more work as I tried to keep the boxes clean, which in turn cost more money in the nest bedding (usually a mix of hay and straw). 

Plan A, the original coop design, was comfy nest boxes and shooing the roosting hens out.  It didn’t work.  The worst of the problem was hens roosting on the outer lip of the box, with their tail ends hanging into the nest, thereby leaving a mess along the front edge in the morning.

So we tried Plan B….S cut some port holes out of a piece of scrap wood, and I hoped that darkening up the box would help prevent some roosting.  S also added a new roost along the front, both to allow the bigger hens to easily enter the tiny holes, and to provide another option for roosting.

It didn’t work.  In fact, the hens went from roosting on the outer lip to just going inside the nest entirely, making the entire nest messy.  Sometimes, 2 or even 3 would share a nest.  So, this weekend, I resorted to Plan C…stapling strips of fabric across the port holes, to create a completely isolated nest box.

BINGO!  As of 2 days later, my nest boxes are still clean!  Not a single hen has been caught roosting, and not a single pile of manure has been deposited in a nest box.  My eggs are clean, which means I don’t have to wash them, which means they are able to keep their naturally protective coating on the shell to keep germs out.  We’ll see if it lasts, but it seems the roosting hens still wanted to be able to see their coop-mates.  With the fabric in place, they can’t see, so their security is taken away (or at least that’s my theory).  On the other hand, the layers want to be as secluded as possible, so they appreciate the darkened, more private boxes. 

After further research, it seems the root of my problem is that my nest boxes are not located correctly.  Apparently, they need to be located sufficiently away from the roosts, and lower than the middle-level roost if they can’t be seperated significantly.  As you can see in my first photo, my boxes are located directly adjacent to my roosts (with some roosts actually touching the boxes), and at the same level as the most popular roosts.  Therefore, when the higher roosts fill up with hens, the remaining hens were content to roost on the boxes rather than perch on the lower roosts. 

As a final note, should you find yourself using this final technique, the hens were not thrilled about the change to their boxes when I added the fabric.  So, I pulled the 2 middle pieces out of the way of the opening (I just tucked them up out of the way), which allowed the hens to more easily see the other side.  Then, I took a few hens, and placed them inside the boxes, to find their own way out.  Within a few hours, I had my normal number of eggs.  That evening, I allowed the 2 tucked up strips to fall back down, completely closing off the hole.  The following day, it didn’t seem to bother the girls at all.

A few months ago, I discovered my new favorite way to eat squash.  With sweet and sour, soft and crunchy flavors and textures all combined, this recipe is delicious, and a welcome change if you are overwhelmed with winter squashes!!

Stuffed Delicatta Squash

  • 2,  8-10 inch long delicattta squash
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Cut the squash in half lengthwise, and clean out the seeds and pulp. 

Steam until tender.  I prefer to use my large steamer, but you could also lay them upside down in a casserole dish, with about an inch of water, and bake at 350* for about 45 minutes to an hour.  Just be aware the latter method may cook unevenly, so you will want to ensure all squash are nicely tender.

While squash is cooking, finely chop celerly and onion, and saute with butter.  Cook until onion and celery are nice and tender, and onion starts to brown lightly.  (Note that I am preparing a lot more than the recipe states.  I broke the recipe down to serve 2-4 people.)

Mix in sour cream and stir well. 

By now the squash should be done.  Remove from pan, and place meat side up on baking tray or casserole dish.  Fill cavity with sour cream mix.  If you aren’t a sour cream fan, just fill 1/2 way to allow the squash flavor to be more apparent.  Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top.  Don’t be stingy with the cheese!  Broil in oven for about 8 minutes, or until cheese turns golden brown.  Remove and serve.

One of the most frequent questions I receive lately is, “How do you do it all?” 

I always think how it’s a “God thing,” as there is no doubt He equips me and provides me with what I need to get through each day’s activities–be it routine animal care, housecleaning, homeschooling, social functions, medical appointments, or all the above.  Lately, however, I realized there is another factor that has also come into play.  Homeschooling is becoming our lifestyle.

When I first started homeschooling, I dare say I was like many homeschool moms just starting out.  I liked the idea of routine, schedules, specific school times and activities, and so forth.  I allowed the pressure of the modern, government-school model to dictate my day far too much.  I didn’t agree with the model, but I didn’t know any other way.  Sure, I had read about “unschooling,” “montessori,” “Charlotte Mason,” and the countless other methods, but since I grew up mostly attending schools, I couldn’t bring myself to experiment with any of those things.  About as far as I got was using montessori activities for the little guys, to introduce them to school times at the table. 

To my dismay, I found that the more I encouraged my children down the path of a typical school day, the more resistance I received.  We never got to the point of major problems like I have heard from others, however, JR shed tears of frustration almost daily at one point, while M was begging for reading times.  I was determined, though, as it was critical that JR learn that math, and M had to read TO ME for the lessons to be effective.  Right?  It was my job to teach my children.  I was the homeschool mom/teacher.  There just wasn’t any other way I knew. 

Then, last spring, a wonderful thing happened.  We moved to a little farm, got a bunch of animals, and life as we knew it changed entirely.  After struggling for quite a few weeks to maintain a schedule, I gave up.  I accepted the fact that my oldest child was only 6 at the time, was far ahead of most of his public school peers, and that it was OK if we started summer a little early.  Over the summer, I figured I would be ready for my preferred more formal school day by August.  However, turning the foreclosure into a nice home and creating all the animal facilities wound up taking far more time than we had anticipated.  Then A started having a lot of his problems and R became mobile, which added a bit more activity and distraction to my day.  As if that wasn’t enough pressure, I started planning our 2011/2012 school year, and realized I needed to register JR, add art, and a more formal science and history curriculum to the mix.  The pressure was mounting. 

Determined to start school on time, I had purchased all the basic curriculums I had decided to use.  I have always enjoyed Abeka for the pre-made worksheets that keep this dis-organized momma on track.  So, as usual, I bought the math, writing, phonics, spelling, and reading materials from Abeka.  I decided to branch out a little with science and ordered some Apologia topical books for science.  I also decided to use some great history books we already had.  So, the first day, I tried my best to be prepared.  I let the 2 older kids do a couple of their worksheets, then we all sat down together to do history.  Before I got through the first page, I realized the book was evolution based and would therefore be useless to our studies at this time.  I needed a new plan for history. 

As the weeks and months went by, and other pressures took equal or greater priority to my physcially sitting with the schooling children while they worked, I began to realize that JR and M were still learning!  Maybe you are laughing at me, but it really was a pivotal, light-bulb moment for me, realizing that I didn’t have to be a hovering homeschool teacher in order for them to learn.  So, I allowed them, on a trial basis, to slip into a less formal routine.  We often experienced “science” outside in the mornings, as the kids learned about animals breeding, preparing and feeding pregnant or lactating goats, adapting our hens for winter laying, and so forth.  When JR would learn fractions during his independent seatwork, we would then go bake some cookies so he could use fractions for measuring.  We had already decided we wanted to start our history as far back in time as we could, so I decided to utilize our daily family-worship time for the basis of our history, and then use daily dicussions on other topics that arose.  I began to use videos and documentaries to help give them a visual image of a topic they had questions about, and then we would discuss it over the next week or so.  After lunch, when the younger children went down for a nap, JR and M would go downstairs and do their worksheets by themselves.  I noticed that, when they did their seatwork, M sat nicely on either her desk chair or her rocking horse, and was all business.  JR, on the other hand, hated sitting in a chair, and tended to squirm and fiddle with something while schooling.  When I used to sit with him, this drove me nuts, and I was always on his case to be still and focus.  During our trial, since I wasn’t sitting there, I wasn’t pressured to keep him still.  He sat on the floor instead of a chair, by choice, and he squirmed and fiddled and shifted his weight around, but amazingly, he got every bit of his work done!  He did focus, in his own boyish way, and the work actually got done faster without my nagging him!

To my surprise, I found that our day became much more relaxed.  JR’s negative attitudes completely disappeared without my hovering.  Granted, he had spells where he would get lazy.  He was supposed to skip things that were very difficult, and I would help him with all the difficult aspects later.  For a while, he found a lot of difficulties.  However, when he discovered there was no playing outside or with friends until all the seatwork was finished and corrected, suddenly, he began to overcome the difficulties on his own, so our correction times became much shorter.  So, not only was he learning addition, subtraction, time, dates, spelling, etc., he was also learning self-discipline and stick-to-it-iveness–skills we consider to be far more valuable in overall life.  M, with her love of reading, quickly became content to just go curl up with a school reading book after her worksheets.  I periodically sit and listen, but many times, she reads aloud just to herself, and I simply overhear and make mental notes regarding her skill level when I pass by.  Yet, even in my absence, she is reading astoundingly well for a 5 year old.  In fact, she is also writing full sentences and letters to people, based solely on the spelling and sounding she learns through reading.  I took an extra step and decided to set JR up with an e-mail account.  Not only would it give him another way to communicate with long-distance family, but it would help him improve on his writing and creativity.  (Just for the record, it was working great until all our family members stopped writing to him…HINT, HINT!!)  For his birthday and Christmas, JR received an art kit and a bunch of art books.  Thanks to the hours upon hours he and M now spend being creative in their own, personally-designed “art” class every day, I have decided art kits will be a staple around here! 

Since we moved out here, we went from being a family who homeschools to a homeschool family.  I finally understand the difference.  There is always room for improvement, but it has been absolutely fascinating to me to see my children learn, staying totally caught up with their materials, despite the fact I am not following every step recommended in the teacher’s manuals, or pysically sitting at the table with them for 4-5 hours each day.  I have learned that it is OK to dictate a sentence out of the Bible for JR to write down, instead of using only the materials in the manuals.  I learn more every day how to take advantage of my children’s interests to allow them to learn.  Recently, JR was asking questions about stars, so we went outside one night, and I showed them falling stars as we discussed meteorites, using light from stars, and the solar system.  M became very interested in queens and princesses, so we watched a documentary on monarchies.  Sure it was intended for adults, and was therefore not entirely captivating for a 5 and 7 year old, but they still got a visual image of 4 different modern-day monarchies.  Afterward, we discussed how all the rulers dressed differently (the first thing M noticed) and had differing responsibilities and roles in their governments.  JR is learning what the Bible means in Proverbs 27:23 when it discusses knowing the state of your flocks and herds, as he helps me keep a close eye on the overall health of our animals.  A friend recently told me, “JR says you can just look at a goat and see if it has a copper deficiency!”  We have had many family discussions over the dinner table regarding new laws, our government, and our freedoms slipping away–which allows the children to see a direct corolation between government (and the man in that big, white house in our nation’s capital) and its impact on individual citizen’s lives.  And no science book or movie is as educational as camping out in the garage watching a goat progress through labor, then watching a kid be stillborn (likely due a to kinked umbilical cord), then watching 2 more enter the world as healthy as can be.  While JR still doesn’t understand the full act of conception (we have intentionally avoided full description so far), he can explain almost every aspect afterward.  We have visited babycenter.com and scrolled through week-by-week images of fetal development.  When he was still puzzled regarding the female anatomy that keeps and protects babies, I got to stop what I was doing and draw out a diagram of a doe with a couple kids inside to show him how it worked.  In less than 5 minutes, he probably learned far more than a full session of sitting on the couch reading a science book about it–because he was interested at the time, and because I am learning to take advantage of that interest when it occurs.  More importantly, I can rest assured that my children will never view unborn babies as “warts,” “growths,” or “inanimanate objects” that are OK to dispose of however we see fit.  They have felt unborn babies move in the womb, and they have seen the videos and photos that explain how life forms.  Watching their father harvest a bull, a goat, a rabbit, or a chicken is far more educational than reading about animal anatomy in a book. 

Now don’t get me wrong.  I still think there is a valuable place for the text books.  I rely on them to keep me on track, fill in the “holes,” and ensure all bases are covered as much as possible.  I am just starting to realize that the books will likely be far more beneficial when they have visual images and life experiences to base the information on, which, in turn, will allow the books to be far more enjoyable.  In addition, I am learning that I don’t have to cover all those topics, or fill in all those holes this year.  It is OK to focus on simply creating a love and passion for learning about the world around us, and to create a solid foundation in my childrens’ character, which will benefit them tremendously in their later years.  I am seeing that it should also make those later homeschool years much easier to handle by allowing them to learn skills like self-discipline, trustworthiness, honesty, independence, etc. now, while they are still young and moldable. 

Homeschooling is becoming our daily lifestyle.  Learning doesn’t have to be limited to Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Rather, we school in some manner 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  These children are like sponges, and to take full advantage of their absorbent little minds, I don’t have to just sit at the school table with them for hours on end.  They are learning so much more, and we are all enjoying it so much more, by allowing them to simply ask questions, use technology and media (with supervision), learn the hard facts of life, learn self-discipline, practice creativity and freedom of thought and expression without a hovering guidance, and taking advantage of all that nature and real-life experience can teach them.  They love learning, and I love watching them learn and seeing all those light-bulb moments when they finally “get” something that has been weighing on their little minds.  I am even seeing the world in a whole new way, as there are so many educational opportunities that might otherwise pass right by.  For example, just this morning, the children were having a little “PE” jumping on the trampoline and enjoying the gorgeous weather today.  I decided to join them, and as I began jumping, I noticed what appeared to be little rocks bouncing all over the mat.  I asked who threw rocks on the tramp, and JR told me nobody–they were falling out of the trees.  So, I knelt down to have a closer look, and sure enough, our trampoline was covered in pine tree seeds!  I picked one up and began to explain them, and JR interrupted, “I know, Mom.  They come out of the pine cones and fall to create new trees.”  (Or something to that effect).  Obviously, he was listening last summer when we dissected a few pine cones just for fun, and discussed them.  It’s absolutely fascinating to me!

Now I totally get why so many experienced homeschool families discourage new homeschoolers from doing school-at-home.  Sure, it works.  But it can be soooo much better than that!  After almost 4 years, I think we are finally getting to that point!

I just got off the phone with the Children’s Hospital regarding A’s MRI results.  Everything came back normal. 

We are both relieved and puzzled.  Relieved, of course, that A’s brain shows no damage and we have ruled out the 2nd concerning condition, which was degenerative.  Puzzled, because we still have no explanation.  It is looking more and more like his issues may be unrelated and possibly a result of the drug exposure. 

Now, I have to schedule the appointment with the endocrinologist to double check his metabolic system.  Hopefully that will give us something for the continual thirst A deals with and the smell he has at times.  I also have to get him in with Early Intervention so we can start his therapies.  I am hoping they will accept him, as they are the only ones I know of who will send the therapists into the home–which I feel is the only way I can deal with frequent appointments.  The neurologist also mentioned that we may need to have him see a psychiatrist to check for underlying issues and/or get recommendations on good ways to deal with A’s behaviors. 

Thus, the journey continues…..

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