February 2012


….Do it well. 

As a general rule, this principle is what we try to teach our children.  Sometimes, though, I may take it a little too far.   In the last few years of mommy-hood, I think I officially fell apart.  Now, I am working to get myself back into shape, one body part at a time.  As I discovered today, though, I apparently went all out during this falling-apart time!

First, there was the dentist, who I haven’t really seen on a regular basis for years.  I went a year ago, but before that, it had been about 3 years.  My tooth sensitivity and increasing TMJ-related jaw pain finally drove me to go in.  Turns out I must be under some stress (I can’t imagine why?!), as I have developed a teeth clenching problem that is causing all my symptoms.  I have sense caught myself clenching when I am nervous, frustrated, or experiencing one of those “Go to your room while I count to 10” child-rearing moments.  No cavities, thankfully, but I have had to order a custom bite guard to wear to protect my teeth from cracking and splitting under the pressure until the stress can be reduced.  I’m thinking that it could be a few years with so many stressful, young child phases to grow out of!

Worse, however, is that for many years, I have suffered back and sciatic nerve problems.  It started when I was in high school, carrying a heavy back pack on one shoulder, and progressed with my numerous falls off horses.  I never thought much of it, and actually got the pain under control with routine chiropractic care when I was a teen.  After I got married, though, for some reason, it suddenly got worse.  I got a massage on my wedding day, and it was one of the most painful experiences I ever had.  For years, people who have laid a hand on my upper back for any reason have commented that I was “hard as a rock,” “had a massive knot,” or “must be under a lot of stress.”  I was so hypersensitive to touch, however, that even though S would often walk up and attempt to massage my shoulders, it was just too painful.  I saw chiropractors off and on over the years, but they all blamed it on “the joy of being a mommy with a baby on the hip,” and other than the occasional (as in once every 2-3 year) visit, I just took their word for it.  I was also aware that so many years riding–and falling from–horses likely took its toll, and as long as I could manage without painkillers, I figured I was OK.  I learned to do some stretches that specifically targeted my back, which also helped keep me loose enough to get by. 

Since R has hit the toddler age, my back really took a turn for the worse.  My sciatica would randomly flare up, making it nearly impossible to walk throughout the day.  Carrying her on one hip (she is in a clingy phase), meant I was always cocked one way or another.  I also had MANY other frustrating and inconvenient symptoms, which past docs and even chiropractors have led me to believe were just how my body was.  Then my lower back started spasming, again, and the stretches weren’t controlling it anymore.  My sleep began to suffer–and you all know how desperately I need my sleep!!  It just wasn’t a good thing.  I didn’t want to turn to pain pills, though, as I remembered what one of my early chiropractors had told me.  “Pain is NOT normal.  Rather, it is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong, and you need to figure out what.”  So I decided to go see A’s naturopath/chiropractic doctor.  After my initial eval, he said, “You have an old injury.  I can’t tell you what or where exactly, but your body is protecting something, which is causing all the issues you have.  You need to get x-rays.”  I didn’t really see the point, as I could only remember one significant injury about 7 years ago.  I slipped and fell–hard–on my hiney onto the corner of a pallet while helping S at the barn one day.  I remember being black and blue and stiff for a few days, but other than a few good horse falls that left me temporarily sore, that was pretty much it.  He convinced me though, and I went and had the full torso x-rays done today.  Let’s just say the money spent ranks up there with some of the best investments we’ve made!!

I know how to read a simple x-ray.  I’ve seen many over the years.  As soon as he hung the picture up, I saw my spine was obviously not right, and a when I looked down lower, WOW!  Apparently in that slip onto the pallet years ago, my tailbone was broken in two places!!  I had no idea!  I’m not talking fractured either.  I’m talking broken at 45* angles and curling into the surrounding tissues.  It totally explained why I can’t sit for long periods of time on hard surfaces.  The impact had also shoved and twisted my sacrum (the large bone between the vertebrae and tailbone that joins the sides of the pelvis) all out of whack, which was very clearly responsible for all the spasms, sciatica, and lower back pain, as well as many of the other inconvenient issues I had been dealing with for years.  In the event you actually care, or just care to humor my injury brag moment, the next photo is part of my x-ray.  The real x-ray is far more clear than this scanned image.  Nonetheless, the yellow line to the right shows roughly the shape of the normal sacrum and tailbone, while the red line shows the 2 areas where mine are broken.  Nice, huh?

What I didn’t notice until he pointed it out, was that my right shoulder was seperated at some point (most likely a hard landing after an unexpected flight off a horse’s back), which had also shoved one of the vertebrae in my upper back toward the left side.  The x-ray was too big for the entire picture to scan onto my computer, but the following gives you an idea.  I drew a light yellow line between the clavicle and scapula.  You can see the one on the left is much shorter than the one on the right side (which seperated).  The faded lines going across top and bottom center of the photo show how the vertebrae should be parallel to each other, but the line in the middle shows how my seperated clavicle wrenched the middle vertebrae out of place. 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the side shot of my torso (not pictured) showed my neck vertebrae (which were clearly angled opposite the normal curve of the spine) showed clear signs of several good whiplash episodes.  Again, I can only assume it happened years ago, during my early horse days, before I knew anything about safety.  The whiplash, shoulder injury, and tailbone/sacrum injury had all combined to throw out the rest of my spine, which literally means my body tissues and nerves are always inflamed, in turn causing my almost constant discomfort and pain. 

The good news is, apparently it’s all fixable.  He said I didn’t need to worry about the tailbone, but the sacrum was our starting point.  For the last 7 years, my pelvis had literally been tilted in the wrong direction.  He adjusted that, and I instantly felt a difference.  Instead of the constant spasms and nerve pain in my lower back, I felt only slight twinges that I can only describe as mucle “confusion.”  It was almost like they were twitching, not uncomfortably, but like they didn’t know how to act without being tense.  He then made a minor adjustment to my upper back, which immediately relieved some of the neck pain I have dealt with, and between the two, my entire center of gravity was different.  I felt very different, but far more even and balanced.  I still feel different, and I still have some tight, uncomfortable areas that obviously need some work, but fearing he would throw my balance totally off, or make me a bit sore with too much at once, he started with those two areas.  I actually brought the x-rays home to show S.  That’ll teach him to tell me to “Toughen up!” (His infamous response when a member of the family receives a seemingly minor injury.) In fact, I’m rather proud to know that I actually had injuries significant enough to cause all this pain, and I never turned to pain killers.  I may not be such a “city girl” after all! 

If you ever come around the Colorado Springs area, I highly recommend this guy!!  (And if you are near Chicago, he has a buddy he highly recommends there.)  He has worked miracles with A, and finally gotten to the root of my back problems.  I get to go back on Friday for further adjustment, and I am really looking forward to it!  I am looking foreward to days free of the discomfort and pain I have dealt with for so many years, and to nights that actually contain good sleep.  I am even hoping for more mornings where I might actually wake up feeling refreshed.   Oh, those will be good days indeed!!

One of the first things we learned out here after winter set in, was that the animal manure froze solid to the ground.  Now, you have to understand that as much as I love my animals, I hate two things–unpleasant animal odor and manure laying around.  I just feel there is no excuse in either.  Both are a sign of poor farm management.  It is unpleasant to smell, look at, walk on, and generally be around, not to mention the increased health risks to the animal (and milk in our case) due to poor hygiene in their environment.  Clean pens are one of the first things I look for when considering purchasing an animal (or animal product) from a farm, so clean pens are a big deal to me.  Now, as busy as I am, I obviously can’t clean pens on a daily basis.  However, there are still ways to deal with the issue.  By turning the animals out into the larger pasture, I quickly discovered that I could get away with cleaning pens just 1-2 times each week.  So, as you can imagine, the first time I went out to clean pens after our winter weather arrived, I was totally disheartened to discover that it was absolutely impossible to dislodge the frozen manure from the ice, and the frozen urine puddles quickly became an eyesore.  The snowy weather meant the goats never wanted to leave their shed.  I knew it was time to implement deep bedding to get by.

For those of you not familiar with deep bedding, it is an excellent tool to use for animal bedding–especially in winter weather.  When utilized properly, it prevents ammonia (urine) odors, provides heat through composting (breakdown of manure), provides regular, fresh, clean bedding for the animals, prevents the ground from growing toxic from animal waste, and provides exceptional, ready-for-the-garden compost when spring finally rolls around.  Although it can be used year round, most folks only use it in the winter since it does provide a lot of heat (something that isn’t generally needed in summer!) and because winter is more often the time that animals wind up penned together in smaller spaces.

To get started, you simply put 2-4 inches of a carbonaceous bedding material (wood shavings, straw, hay, etc.) down in a stall as normal.  Then, depending on the number of animals you are dealing with and the amount of space they are in, as the bedding begins to appear soiled, you add another 2-4 inches of carbonaceous material on top.  The nitrogen and moisture from the urine that is absorbed by the lower layer of bedding begins the process of decomposition, while the fresh layer provides clean bedding for the animals.  The decomposition prevents odor.  This process is repeated over and over for the duration of winter.

The only real problem with deep bedding is that it can get very deep very quickly.  I know of a couple of farmers who built their sheds extra tall, and then built their feeders to be adjustable in order to compensate for up to 4 feet of added height as the bedding increased over the winter.  Unfortunately, I do not have this option.  My sheds are short to begin with, and my feeders aren’t adjustable.  So, a couple weeks ago, after I had smacked my head on the rafters one too many times, I had to clean out most of my deep bedding and start the process over.   As usual, my photos don’t show great detail, so you will have to just believe what I am telling you.

This first photo shows my goat shed.  The roughly 8×8 shed has housed 3-5 does at any given time throughout this winter.  We have put roughly 7 bales of straw into this shed for bedding over the winter (not counting the bales stacked in the entry way to form a wall of sorts–you can see it to the left side, in the sun).  In addition, I have used about 3 large bales of pine shavings.  As you can see below, despite all the material, the bedding layer is only about 8 inches deep.  This is because the decomposition process is so incredibly fast.

In order to clean out the bedding, I just had to rake.  Temperatures had been in the single digits and teens at night for weeks, with day highs generally only getting into the 20’s and 30’s on rare occasion.  Everything outside was totally frozen solid, but inside the wide-open shed, nothing was frozen.  In fact, it was warm enough from the active composting going on that I quickly had to remove my coat.  In the next photo, you can see how just a few inches below the surface, it begins to look like dark, rich soil.  It is.  You are looking at pure, nitrogen and nutrient rich compost.

Notice in the above photo that most of the bedding you see is comprised of wood shavings.  Wood shavings are actually the best material to use if you have access to a good supply.  It is the most absorbent, economical (when free), and decomposes the fastest.  Unfortunately, I have to buy it by the bale at retail prices, so I only bed about half way with it.  I use straw for the other half.  Straw/hay can cause problems if you aren’t careful though.  It tends to get wet and mat down, preventing the oxygen required for rapid aerobic decomposition from getting into the bedding.  As I raked, I found about 3 sections where the straw had done just that.  I knew by the smell that I was about to uncover such an area, because rather than the rich, earthy scent of healthy aerobic compost, the anaerobic breakdown smells musty.  You can see the large chunks and mildewey appearance on the underside of this section, which was about a square foot.

Despite the issues with the mildew and mold, though, I was quite fascinated with the scents I did smell as I raked.   I would have expected at least some overpowering ammonia smell after almost 4 months of goat poop and urine collecting into that bedding, but it wasn’t there.  The entire time I raked, all I smelled was a rather pleasant, rich earth smell.  Even in the anaerobic areas, I couldn’t smell the mildew and must until just before I flipped the layer that was covered in it.

In the next photo, it is hard to see, but you may notice the center of the shed floor is much higher than the back and sides.  There is actually a rather large mound of dirt here, almost 4 inches higher than the sides, which I found interesting as well.  We just built and placed this shed last spring, so it hasn’t even been there a year.  It was placed on rather level ground.  The mound was formed by the deep bedding compost, as the center area is where the goats urinate the most.  The extra nitrogen and moisture causes much faster decomposition in that area, than on the sides, where you can still see lots of hay and straw laying on the ground, looking almost fresh.

Obviously, our winter isn’t even close to being over, so after I cleaned out most of the old bedding and compost, I started again with a couple of inches of wood shavings and straw.  I left just enough compost underneath to continue some provision of heat, as well as get the decomposition of the new material off to a faster start.

I want to mention a few other things worthy of consideration with this process, based on my limited experience and research.

  • First, the process can be used outside as well.  Shiloh, our donkey, does most of her elimination along a path on one side of her pen.  Some of the manure gets trampled into bits that can’t be picked up, while other areas just freeze solid before I can clean it out.  Her urine puddles are often in the same areas, which could easily make the soil toxic and kill all the microbes normally found in healthy soil.  As a result, I have found that I can sprinkle a couple of inches of shavings along this path, periodically covering up her poop piles, and adding a little thicker layer over the urine puddles.  Not only does it make the whole area far more pleasant and odor free, but I find the shavings prevent the manure from freezing as solid, which actually allows me to clean it out once in a while.  The heat provided also causes this area to thaw faster than the rest of her pen, which helps on cleaning days as well.
  • Use chickens to aerate the bedding.  All good compost needs to be turned once in a while to keep the oxygen at healthy levels throughout the compost.  I don’t always have time to spend turning entire sheds’ worth of compost and bedding, so I let my chickens do it for me.  All I have to do is periodically allow some goat grain to spill out and get stomped into the bedding.  The goats won’t touch it.  Then, on a nice afternoon after the hens have finished laying, I simply move a few out to the goat pen.  They spend hours happily scratching up all the bedding in order to find bugs, morsels, and old grain that has collected in the bedding over time.  They do such a thorough job that they can totally eliminate the anaerobic areas like I found in my last batch of bedding.  We use the hens a lot more now.  If there is an area they skip for some reason, a simple handful of corn or grain tossed on that area will focus their attention right where you need it.  This mixing process also helps the bedding to compost more evenly, since it helps distribute moist bedding and manure evenly throughout the shed, rather than mounding in certain areas like my first batch did.
  • If you have access to hogs, they can help as well.  We plan to use them at Red Gate.  After a winter of the deep bedding and compost being packed down, it can be quite a chore to dig it up in the spring (as I found with my center mound recently!)  By ensuring some corn is sprinkled into the bedding with every added layer, the mixture results in a fermented and highly desirable feed for the hogs.  They happily dig up all the old layers and turn the compost in search of the corn, which loosens it up for the farmer.  All you have to do is scoop it out and toss it into the garden–all ready composted and just in time for spring planting!
  • A slight variance of this process can be used for rabbits.  As with the larger livestock, we have found the rabbit manure and urine collects and freezes rapidly under the cages, which can quickly lead to intense and unpleasant smells.  We have found, however, that by adding wood shaving liberally into the manure areas (including on the “ceiling” of the bottom cages to collect urine from the top cages), we can totally prevent smells.  The decomposition heats and loosens the frozen manure, which allows us to clean it more often as well.
  • Like the rabbits, a modified version can be used in the chicken coop.  If we ever open our coop one morning and smell the unpleasant aroma of the highly potent chicken manure, I simply toss a pile of wood shavings over the base, toss in some grain to encourage them to dig it around and spread it out, and by mid-day, the smell is totally gone.  If not, I simply add more shavings.  Trust me.  It works.

Well, that’s pretty much it.  I am definitely a big believer in deep bedding.  I am greatly looking forward to being at Red Gate Farm, where S’s lumber mill will allow us to collect enough wood shavings and sawdust to create all the ideal carbonaceous material we could want!  Add a few hogs and hens along the way, and we’ll be set!

As you’ve probably figured out by now, we love multi-purpose items.  Over the years, we have found that items that are not limited to just one purpose can potentially save a lot of money.  Some purchases may be more expensive up front, but in the long run, save a bundle and may often be of higher quality.  Take our “farm” minivan for example.

We bought our little Toyota Sienna as a year-old, used car back in 2008.  Thanks to my husband’s practicality and frugality (aka, sometimes he can be a complete tightwad!), we were looking for a very cheap, basic model.  God knew our future needs better than we did though, so He provided this vehicle.  It was a little more van than S had wanted, but it was exactly what I wanted, seeing as how we had 3 children and were planning at least one more adoption at the time.  It came complete with auto-roll down rear windows, auto-rear window vents, spacious rear cargo area, luggage rack, rear seats that folded into the floor, and center seats that were removable, lots of cup holders, and several other extras that I never dreamed existed.  S agreed the features could be worthwhile on our long driving trips to Red Gate, allowing us plenty of room to tend to the children’s needs while on the road, so we bought it.  We had no idea how useful it would really be. This van has allowed us to continue to be a one-vehicle family.  We have been that way since I sold my horses and pickup back in 2006, which has certainly saved us a bundle in extra vehicle maintenance and insurance over the years!  Even since we started this little hobby farm, this van has served almost every need. 

Here are just a few roles our little van has played:

Standard family hauler for 5 kids in 5 carseats, plus, if you look closely in this photo, you will also see a new little goat in the rear cargo area. In addition, on this particular trip, we had our 80 lb dog, 8 lb. cat, and all the luggage and food needed for a 2 week vacation.

……..
 
Animal hauler–just collapse/remove the rear seats to expand the cargo area, cover the front seats and floor, add shavings to absorb any “unwanteds” and VOILA!
 
 

Stallion in our mini-van/livestock hauler

I can also easily load up a few kids and my large dog crate in order to haul up to 20 full grown chickens home.
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Hay/Straw hauler.  By simply collapsing the seats and covering the floor (it does help, believe it or not), we can load up enough hay/straw for several months.  S recently loaded 18 bales into our little van ON A SINGLE TRIP (pictured)! 
 
 
 
 
………
 
As if that wasn’t enough, you should see the doubtful looks S gets when he goes to Home Depot for lumber and plywood! He has it down to a science that never ceases to impress the folks standing around laughing at him when he first drives up!  He has learned that 4×8 sheets of plywood and 8 foot long pieces of lumber will perfectly fit laying on the floor just behind the front seats.  10 foot long lumber slides neatly under the center table between the 2 front seats.  12 foot lumber fits nicely when propped over the front passenger seat (which is collapsed), and rests its extra length on the dash.  All this and the rear door still closes! 
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Dairy Wagon:  I used to haul milk for a dairy share, and could easily fit everyone’s coolers with room to spare, plus always take 1-2 children along for the ride.
 
 

View from the front

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As if that wasn’t enough, we have hauled 8 foot folding tables, furniture for moves, 8 foot fence post logs, huge rolls of fencing, and more!  Every month for the last year, I have used it to haul our monthly co-op foods, which often include up to 1,000 lbs. of bagged feed in one trip!
 
Now, I will admit, this type of use is hard on a van.  It’s also hard on a vaccuum cleaner, seeing as how we wind up cleaning the carpets on a very regular basis.  It can also be difficult, and take time, to get rid of smells (like the day I hauled Stallion home!  Not my brightest idea!).  It’s a good thing God blessed us with those automatic rear windows and vents!!  They’ve come in quite handy!  All in all, though, I would say we made the best choice for our circumstances.  For once or twice a month hauling like we have done in the past few years, one vehicle will more than suffice.  Now, however, we are finally reaching a point where we are disassembling, cleaning, and re-assembling for different jobs on weekly, and sometimes multi-times-weekly basis, and therefore, we feel we have reached a justifiable point for purchasing a pickup truck.  Truck beds do have their advantages for sure (like the ability to simply hose it and be done!)  Until we save enough, though, we have no worries that our trusty little multi-use van will suffice just fine!
 

….Sometimes…..

Othertimes, it can be really bad for the waistline–in either direction, depending on whether you are the producing doe or the consuming human.

We are so thrilled to have milk again.  I know that sounds funny to you folks who buy from the store.  However, if you are like us, and your children react to store-bought milk, meaning you are dependant on your animals, you gain a whole new perspective and appreciation for your food.  Our dry spell really taught us to be thankful for God’s provision. 

Lilac is such a good girl.  I wasn’t sure how she would take to milking again after her 2.5 month break, but once the milk started flowing, she has never kicked or even stomped once in protest.  She is used to our current schedule of pulling her babies off for the night, and tucking them away into our garage.  I have to imagine she enjoys her sleep as much as I do.  Then, I go out and feed in the morning, set up the milk stand, and let her out of the pen.  She is always standing there waiting and yelling at me to hurry things up. 

My morning greeters, Lilac and Athena.

I open the gate, and Lilac immediately runs around to the milk shed, waits for me to open the door for her, then hops up onto the stand.  She knows the routine well. 

Uhhh, mom, can you stop taking photos so we can get on with it?

I knew when I bought her that she had already been milked through for a year, had been almost dried up twice, had settled into a once-a-day milking routine, and by the time I got her, she was producing around a quart a day.  Between me increasing the milking schedule to twice a day, and her adopting and co-parenting one of Sara’s kids last year, her production increased a bit to about a quart and a half.  Thus, I was eager to see what it would be like on her second freshening.  I was hoping for about a half gallon per day.  Then we decided to sell her and Sara, and I’m so thankful I pre-sold her, or I might be tempted to keep her now that I have seen her potential.  Not only does she have the best attitude, she has a gorgeous udder that sits high and carries the milk very well, the milk itself is delicious, and you should see what she produces!!  I totally underestimated her! 

Lilac's morning udder.

Lilac’s milk is rich, creamy, and delicious.  Because she is 1/2 Nigerian, her butterfat content is fairly high–I would estimate in the 5% or 6% range.  I have made butter out of her whole milk.  It does our toddler great, but does absolutely nothing for my waistline!!

From the time I began milking her this season, she was consistently giving me around 3.5 lbs. (6 cups) at her once-daily milking, for about 4 weeks.  Then, she began peaking.  Each day, her production climbed until I was geting 4-4.5 lbs each morning.  Then yesterday, we reached the 5 lb. mark!  I had to use 2 jars to store it all!  In one twelve hour period, this little mini-girl produced 9 cups of milk!  I realize this won’t last forever since she is in her peak right now, but still.  I am thoroughly impressed.  I went to a lot of effort and paid good money for purebreds with good potential and genetics for producing around 8-10 lbs. per day, and here I have a crossbred, unregistered, miniature, that eats about 2/3 what the full size girls eat, and produces just as much!  Go figure!!  I sold her due to the simple fact that I am not crazy over her teat length–literally the ONLY thing I don’t like about milking her.  I have created this ideal in my mind (based on Sara’s), and that is what I am aiming for in my buying and breeding program.  As wonderful as Lilac is, she just doesn’t quite fit into my end goals. 

Of course, there is a downside to this amazing production.  Lilac is having a fit keeping weight on.  She has always looked like a stocky pygmy-type goat.  Then, she got a little ill right after delivery and went off her grain.  She lost a few pounds, but I didn’t worry too much about it, as I figured she would re-gain after she started eating.  Well, she is certainly eating well now–several pounds of grain in addition to however much alfalfa pellets, hay, and treats she can get.  The way nature works though, all that protein is only encouraging her to produce more milk apparently, as (I have been keeping records) there is a distinct correlation between her feed intake and her production.  In the mean time, she seems to be getting thinner by the week.  She still looks great, she’s just looking more like a dairy goat than a pygmy-type goat.  I never like getting to an uncomfortable point, though, so after consulting with my goat-mentor, I am going to start giving her a third treat each day of some high-quality, non-GMO, organic corn with a few other grains mixed in.  It’s loaded with corn oils and carbohydrate-related nutrients which will hopefully not encourage more production, but rather a bit more weight gain. 

So, I have a new experiment to learn from.  There is certainly never a dull moment around here!!

The last few weeks have been very discouraging for me.  The monotony of a homeschool life, house cleaning, raising and training young children (including the discipline needs), and severe cabin fever, added to the frustrations of dealing with A’s uncooperative doctor and A’s as-yet-unexplained and exhausting behavioral issues on a daily basis.  I actually have tons of stuff to blog about, and lots of photos sitting on my camera, but lack the time and/or motivation to get it done.  I always have far too many other priorities around here, and most days, I just feel too drained and burnt out to do anything extra. 

Finally, last night, we had something to lift all our spirits.  Our first litter of baby rabbits in 9 months was kindled.  We have anticipated this day for some time.  They were born around dinner last night, and when I went to ensure they were tucked in for the chilly night, I was disheartened to discover every one of them was dead (8 in total).  It made me just sick to my stomach.  The downside of farmlife is death, and I hate it.  Always have.  The only thing I can figure was that she went in to feed them, and just forgot to bury them back into the fur pile, allowing them to chill.  We may give her one more chance, in the hopes it was just a fluke, as there were many other signs that she was trying to be a good mom.  With temps in the low twenties at the time, it doesn’t take long to chill those little guys. 

Now, I am well aware that I get into a mood like this toward the end of every winter season.  I have no doubt it’s a severe case of cabin fever.  I get irritated, frustrated, and want nothing more than to be outside in the warm sunshine, working on some project or just enjoying my animals.  It doesn’t help that we have been buried in ice and snow for so many months now, that I have lost count.  And there’s no sign of it ending any time soon.  This house was buried in snow and ice when we bought it last year, and it was still cold and snowy in early May when I delivered my first goat kids. 

Unlike past years, however, this year, there seems to be a remedy.  For the first time in my life, and certainly since I began having children, I am going on a “vacation” all alone.  Yesterday, we bought the plane tickets and reserved the rental car–and have at least 2 very upset children who desperately want to go with me.  I am headed to Red Gate Farm for a whole week to do some indoor work that I can never seem to do when the kids are around.  I might just go for a jog every morning like I did years ago–just because I can (or at least until my out-of-shape lungs prove otherwise!)  I am not a big shopper, but while paying off our mortgage, there were so many little things we put off that I am also planning a shopping trip to get that type of stuff.  I am going to go get a professional hair cut for the first time in 2 years (no offense, Honey!  S usually cuts my hair about 2-3 times a year).  Then, I am going to sleep soundly (assuming my body remembers how), enjoy the green grass, spring weather, and warm sun (60* IL sun is incredibly warm compared to our daily average of about 25-30*!).  At some point, I will get around to the painting and cleaning jobs I have planned.  Late at night, I hope to curl up with a good book.  I plan to attend the little church where we know a couple of people (not that anyone will recognize me without my rainbow collection of children in tow), and I might even be social with others.  If I want to.  I will also be a complete hermit at times, and just rest my soul.  I would love to delve into scripture and refresh my spirit as well as my body.  The extra exciting thing is that this could be the first of only 2 more trips there before we move there for good next year!!  I am so excited–for this trip and the move.  I’ve told S, the only problem with this trip is that S won’t be there to drag me away like he always does when it’s time to leave.  Of course, I’m sure I will be missing the family so much by the end, leaving won’t be too bad. 

Naturally, leaving things here on the homefront causes concern in itself.  I have two does due to deliver in the time frame I am gone.  S is far more practical, and likely more inclined to “let nature run it’s course” should issues arise.  In regards to our long-term goals, I know he is right, but it just isn’t really my way.  I obsess over every little detail. 

Yup, this trip will be good for me.  My biggest fear is that my perfectly competent husband will run things so smoothly during my absence that all my visions of being desperately needed will go right out the window.  I admit though, that it is a good thing to be able to completely and totally trust your spouse to handle everything in your absence.  If anything, he will feed the children better than I do!  And who knows, maybe his “superior officer” military ways will whip some of these bickering kiddos into shape while I am gone! 

For the next few weeks, everytime my cabin-feverish children start bickering, or I begin cleaning the floor for the 500th time that day, or I spend 2 or 3 hours preparing yet another double- or triple- recipe dinner that is eaten in about 10 minutes, I get to close my eyes and picture my upcoming trip, secluded on my gorgeous 25 acres, no phone, no computer, no radio even (hmmm….maybe I should buy a radio).  Except for the sound of crickets on warm nights, and a light spring breeze, it will be quiet and worry free.  Hopefully, it will be just the refreshment I so desperately need before we plunge into full-time farm life next year. 

I have 2 extra bedrooms if any of you other moms need solace of your own!  I also have to find some good natural/organic raw milk and food near Springfield (haven’t had much luck with that in the past!).  Normally, we take all our food with us, but I can’t this time.  Hmmmm…that could be a challenge!  Maybe I just won’t eat for a week.  Of course, being diabetic and all, that’s probably not the grandest idea.  For now, though, it’s back to the grind-stone I have truly been blessed with.  Laundry is calling, I have dishes waiting to be loaded in the dishwasher, and the carpets are screaming for a vacuum treatment.   Oh, just a few more weeks…..

This past weekend, for the first time, we got to do the dirty deed of banding our little bucklings.  In terms you city folk might understand, it was time to ensure our little boy goats would never become full-fledged, breeding bucks, and cause all the adventures Stallion was responsible for.  To do so, we decided to use a method that puts a very tiny, but thick rubberband of sorts, around their…..ummm….little boys.  Go ahead, guys, and cringe now.  I’ll understand….I apologize in advance for the photos, as JR and M were responsible for pictures, the little guys have extra fuzzy fur, and my camera doesn’t do close ups well anyway. 

On banding day, it was frigidly cold outside, and I knew I couldn’t wear gloves for the job.  Therefore, we decided to bring the boys into our mudroom.  S sat in a chair and held them between his legs (praying that the bander didn’t slip at all!).  Holding them in this position encourages the little balls to drop out of their hiding spot in the abdominal cavity.  As cold as it was outside and as well as those little boys were hiding, we needed all the encouragement we could get!  At this stage, the little guy just thought S was cuddling him, and was thrilled to be warm inside.  He had no idea how his life was about to change.

I gave him his CD&T vaccine, then prepared my bander.  You can see the bander with the rubber band next to it.

This is the band stretched open.

And this is the band being released. 

Now imagine certain parts of the male anatomy caught inside that band.  That’s the idea we were going for here.

Next, I had to massage the boys out completely.  This process was already becoming harder than youtube made it look!  Those boys were tucked up comfortably inside, and they had absolutely no desire to completely emerge.  Finally, though, persistance and pressure in key areas paid off, and I managed to get them out.  As you can see, the little guy isn’t too miserable at this point. 

Then I had to use two hands for a three handed job (though, when possible, S did lend me a third hand).  Since it was my first time, I was all fumble-fingers.  Each of those boys had a mind of their own, and tried to disappear back inside if I slacked off at all.  Once I had a secure grip on the top of the scrotum, with the balls securely on the outside, the bander was opened to its widest and slipped into place, over the balls, and all the way up against the body.

The trick here was to get it totally above the balls, so it crimped the cords, without catching hair or teats inside as well.  Let me tell you, this was NOT easy for a newbie.  As a result, we ensured the band was not released, and that the little buck remained comfortable while I fiddled around and got it right.  Once I was sure everything was in place, the bander was slowly released, allowing the rubber band to close around the sack.  Once it was almost closed, I had to slip my fingers in there and roll the band off the tips and into place.  (Insert a quick, but very unappreciative and loud MEEEEH!!!!! from baby goat).

Finally, I checked to ensure no hair, skin, or teat was caught, that balls were fully dropped, and that everything was secure. 

Then, we did it again to the next little guy.  Apparently his brother warned him, as his little suckers were a bear to get out!  Then, when I finally got it, the band didn’t feel in the right position, so we had to cut it off (the band, not the balls).  At that point, I called my mentor to help, and she willingly came over.  She inspected the first job and approved, then helped me with the second, who was still being stubborn.  Within a short time though, both boys were banded and returned to mom to nurse.

In case you are wondering, they were a little uncomfortable for an hour or so afterward, laying down a lot.  The band cuts off all circulation to everything below it, and it tingles for a while (or so “they” say).  By the next morning, though, they are totally unaware, and act completely normal.  Within several days, the balls are visibly smaller, literally shriveling up and dying.  At the same time, the “crushed” area under the band will begin to grow together, sealing off everything below.  In a couple weeks, the band and everything below the new skin seal will simply fall off.  If Athena is around, she will likely ensure it doesn’t go to waste. 

Now, you might be wondering why we would do such a thing.  I have always been a big believer in breeding responsibly.  In just a few short months, these cute little boys would likely grow up to be this:

…stinky, big, ugly, blubbering bucks in full rut, peeing all over themselves, head butting each other until their heads are bloody, and with only one thing on their minds at all hours.  We believe anything that will be kept for breeding should be an animal that is worthy of passing his genetics on.  These two little guys in particular are crossbred bucklings, 1/4 Nigerian Dwarf, and although their dam’s udder and production are beautiful, her teats are shorter than we prefer in a good milker.  Bucks are known to pass on the milking genetics of their mother, so she has to be carefully evaluated.  In their case, we decided it was best to wether (castrate) them.  What this means for them, though, is that instead of living what often turns out to be a neglected, isolated life (due to their aroma), they have actually been purchased as wethers to begin a small herd of weeder goats.  They will have a fulfilling life on a small farm, likely being loved on regularly by the buyer’s grandchildren, and being rotated around the property to clear overgrown grass and weeds.  Thanks to a few moments of discomfort, they will now hopefully have a great, long life as family pets.

Shortly after S and I were married, we were like many newlyweds.  I brought several thousand in debt to our marriage, we had a vehicle payment every month, we lived in a rented apartment, and with S’s financial background, although he had a good bit in savings, our mindset was more about “investments.”  About 2 years later, we attended a Crown Ministries financial class, where, for the first time, we saw God’s plan for our finances.  We realized that handling finances in a Biblical manner was completely different than what society and financial advisors recommended.  We were convicted, and used S’s savings to pay off all our debt.  We were totally debt free for several years.  I was also blessed to have a husband who taught me to live frugally. 

After becoming debt free, we followed Biblical advice to stay that way by continuing to ensure we saved a bit of money almost every month.  Although we certainly fall in the “middle class” realm–a family of 7, living on a single, active duty salary, we still managed to use good investment choices and savings to establish a decent nest egg.  As time went by, we decided to use some of our savings to invest in some land to be used when we retired.  As usual, God had other ideas, blessing us tremendously with Red Gate Farm–complete with house, barn, and land–and we didn’t have to take a mortgage to buy it.  All those years of saving truly paid off, and we got to see the reward first hand.  As time went on, we continued to live frugally, saving where we could, and then using the money as God called us to.  We were able to adopt 3 children without going into debt, and it was a wonderful feeling, knowing that by living Biblically, we were witnessing money being used to further God’s kingdom.  Because of our own experiences, we also became counselors ourselves, conducting Crown Ministries classes at our churches over the years, and being able to witness others’ lives transformed as they worked to get out of debt.

Then, last year, we moved out here.  You can go back through the blog to see details, but essentially, after much prayer, we felt at peace buying the place where we currently live.  There was just one caveat.  It meant we had to take a mortgage.  Although we spent almost every dime we had in savings, it wasn’t enough to cover the purchase price.  We took our first mortgage for the remainder, which was almost half of the cost (let’s just say we borrowed 6 figures).  As much as we didn’t want to do it, we felt it was acceptable in the circumstances we were in at the time.  So we went through the application and mortgage process, and boy, were we enlightened!  It didn’t take long at all to realize why the Bible counsels against debt!  Compared to the simplicity of buying Red Gate, this process was so frustrating, and there were times we truly felt as though we were “slave to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7).  

We did not take our debt lightly.  We could see the economy was volatile, and we knew we had to get out of debt as fast as possible.  So, even before we signed the first document, we had already mapped out a plan.  First, we agreed that our tithing and normal giving would not change.  Then, knowing that “life” happens, and unexpected costs come up, we calculated the maximum we could afford to pay every month, then added a few months for those unexpecteds.  Although we were comfortable, we definitely had to buckle down our monthly expenditures a lot.  I had to pay extra close attention to our monthly budget, and we sacrificed wherever we could.  At the same time, we were trying to build the place up for our animals.  As a result, we had a very limited budget for building projects each month, and recycled or bartered wherever we could.  As a result, most months, we were able to overpay on our mortgage by about 5x the monthly bill.  Our goal was to pay off by the end of summer of 2012, which gave us just over a year to pay off a 30-year ARM loan.  We were determined, and in times of frustration, discomfort, or discouragement, we turned to the the Bible’s wisdom and prayer for guidance.  Twice we were blessed with money we hadn’t calculated–one was a great adoption tax refund plus unexpected interest, and the other was S’s pilot bonus, which we had totally forgotten about.  Both of those incomes went straight to the mortgage company. 

I am thrilled to report that this week, we completely and entirely paid off our mortgage, just over 10 months after signing, and about 6 months earlier than we planned!  When I pulled up our online account today, it was such a feeling of jubilation to see the words “ACCOUNT CLOSED, PAID IN FULL.”  While we have no regrets about the choices we made, we have also vowed, God willing, to never go into debt again.

As a previous Crown Ministries counselor, I am well aware of the impact debt can have on individuals and families.  Thanks to our personal and counseling experiences, I would like to offer some tips we found useful to help others get out of debt….

  • Understand your TOTAL debt.  This includes family debts, mortgages, credit cards, student loans, car payments, etc.  If you owe money, it’s called debt.  You need to see the whole picture if you want any hope!
  • Don’t think in terms of “If only’s.”  One of the biggest frustrations that we had while we were working our tails off to pay off our mortgage was others who tended to have similiar debt who came up with all sorts of excuses.  “If only I made more money,” “If only I had less debt,” “If only I had a better job,” “If only I had savings to begin with,” “If only they didn’t charge so much interest,” and so on.  If you think in these terms, you will never get out of debt.  Instead, to be succesful, you MUST think in terms of, “What can I do today/this week/this month to find money to apply toward our debt?”  It must become a lifestyle of sorts to save rather then spend.
  • Don’t “save” extra money for a big payment months later.  Every cent you don’t pay off now, you are paying interest money on.  If you have $5 extra dollars to put toward your debt, pay it on your next bill!!  In the long run, it will save you much more than $5 in cumulative interest payments.  Have you ever done the math on interest?   If you took a $100,000 loan with 5% interest for 30 years, you wind up paying back $193,255.  That means you are paying the lender $93,255 to borrow $100,000!!  Think about it. 
  • Pay off your highest-interest debts first.  This usually means credit cards.  As you pay off one debt, apply the entire amount toward your second pay-off, then apply both those amounts to others.  For example, let’s say you have a $50 credit card payment each month at high interest, a $200 car payment at medium interest, and a $700 mortgage payment at low interest.  Put every extra dollar toward paying off the credit card first.  When that is done, apply the $50 that used to go to credit card toward your car payment, in addition to all the extra dollars.  Then, when that is paid off, apply the $50 credit card payment, the $200 car payment, and the extra cash toward the mortgage.  You are already using that much money to pay debt, so don’t start splurging until ALL debt is gone. 
  • It doesn’t matter how much money you make, or what your social class is.  If you can afford to eat out once a month, pay a cell phone bill, or buy a starbucks coffee, then you have extra cash to apply toward your debt.  Find areas where you can sacrifice, and DO IT!!  Follow through!! 
  • Stop blaming others.   Many people have a tendency to blame the lenders for increased interest rates, unexpected problems, etc., when, in fact, everything was in writing the day they signed.  If more borrowers accepted full responsibility for their debt, they would get out of it much faster, and with a lighter, happier heart attitude!
  • Sacrifice wherever possible.  You could lose the cell phone in order to apply the $100 cell phone bill toward your debt.  You can disconnect fancy extra phone and computer features.  You may be able to sell a vehicle.  You could lose the TV (GASP!!  Really, we did it years ago, and have never regretted it!!) and save the cable/satellite bill.  Find out how much you eat out and cut it in half, or better yet, eliminate it completely!  Learn to shop at yard sales and thrift stores (and feel good that you are recycling and protecting God’s creation as you do!). Learn to barter for goods and services when possible.  As you can see, these savings can add up VERY quickly.  We have counseled some whose best option was even to sell their home, rent for a few years, then have the financial freedom they could only dream of.  Home ownership is very expensive, despite what society tells you.  The more debt you have, the more sacrifice you should consider making. 
  • Continue to tithe first.  God always blesses those who freely give. 
  • Apply any and all extra money toward debt.  Tax refunds are not a good thing.  They are 0% interest loans to the government.  Additionally, it is frustrating as a counselor when we see a client receive a huge refund that could substantially reduce their debt, but they opt for some frivolous purchase instead.  Adjust your witholding to eliminate or significantly reduce your tax refund.  Apply the extra each month and you’ll rapidly cut down debt and save hundreds or thousands in interest.  If you end up with a refund, don’t be tempted to splurge.  Decide ahead of time that extra money will be applied toward debt. 
  • Set an end goal, and think up rewards to work towards.  Depending on how lengthy your time frame is, you may need small rewards along the way (like a dinner out).  At the end, consider both an immediate reward right after payoff (like a nice date night) and a large reward (which may involve saving all that debt payment money and apply toward something later).   For us, we promised the kids a big restaurant dinner, complete with appetizer and dessert shortly after payoff, and then we will save most of what we formerly applied to our mortgage so we can purchase a a truck and livestock trailer by next year–debt free. 
  • Use caution with credit cards, and pay it off EVERY SINGLE MONTH!!  If your budget doesn’t allow you to pay it off at the end of the month, DON’T BUY IT!!   
  • Once you are out of debt, keep saving and spending with cash!!!  Don’t allow yourself to see future debts and loans as an option.  Especially in our current failing economy, it is just too risky.  Take the mindset that if you can’t buy it with cash, you can’t buy it right now.

Understand that debt is not a sin in itself, but if you find yourself thinking and worrying about debt to the point that it takes your focus off Christ, that is when it becomes a sin.  God discusses wealth and money more than any other topic in the Bible, and for good reason.  Debt ruins lives.  So, rather than being a slave to a lender, financial freedom offers opportunitites that you might otherwise have never imagined.  There are opportunities for ministry, opportunities for fun and family adventures, opportunities to improve your lifestyle.  Just don’t allow yourself to rush it.  It can be overwhelming if you are looking at 10’s of thousands of dollars in debt, and even more so if you are looking at 100’s of thousands.  It doesn’t matter though.  Just take it one day at a time, set realistic goals, cut where you can, and make yourself do it.  It’s hard work, but the end is more rewarding than you could possibly imagine!!

As a side note, Crown Ministries is a nationwide program, and the counseling costs nothing.  Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace” program is also very good, though somewhat more secular.  These programs are designed to help you establish a plan and follow through.  If you are in a financial bind, I would be happy to help you find a counselor in your area, or even work with you myself if need be to get you going on a solid foundation.  You can e-mail me anytime at crmemory2 -at- yahoo -dot- com.  Just do it!!

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