Monday, May 31, 2010

An Absurd Amount of Stuff - or - The Tradeoff

This weekend I chose the staying-home-and-getting-things-done side of the tradeoff vs being social.  I'm naturally a task-oriented person (as opposed to a relationship oriented person), so this choice fit my nature.  My social options were things I was going to have to force myself to do anyway - large parties where I only knew a person or two.  As soon as I gave myself permission to not be social this weekend, things got really good. The weather was wonderful and I got a totally rude amount of things done.

I cleaned the chicken poop out of and took apart the chicken playhouse.  Here's my Home Depot/Wal Mart deee-luxe chicken poop hauler.  I put the manure across the street where the dogs can't get it, since I don't have a compost pile - yet.

I washed and sanitized 40 bottles, preparing to bottle the 5 gallons of cider I've had fermenting for the last month.  This was a chore.  (Remind me next time to do a better job of cleaning the bottles right after I empty them - before yukky things get a foothold.)
I made raw milk mozzarella cheese and then had one of those balls with fresh basil pesto for dinner last night.

I planted more basil, melon, zucchini, squash, more tomatoes.  Now everything I've started is planted.  The only thing left to plant is the fig tree I bought last week.  Don't judge - I LOVE figs.  Yes, I know figs don't do well in anything less than zone 7 and I'm at zone 5b.  That's why it's not planted yet.  I have to figure out what fantastically creative thing I'm going to do to keep this guy alive so it can make figs for me.

Today I re-arranged parts of the kitchen, which involved taking something apart and putting it back together, hours later.

AND - this is the big one, even though I'm not doing the work - logger dude brought his carpenter friend over and they framed in my new woodshed (with a 6-foot extension for the ATV and lawnmower).  What you see here is 4 hours of work for them, that would have taken me infinity hours more than that.

Now, even though I have 3 more gallons of milk and was planning on making more cheese - I think I'm going to give myself permission to stop working.  Take a shower and sit in the shade with a book and some hard cider.

PS - the other big project that I think I've got covered is that I think I've found the guy I'm going to hire to build a big shed/barn thing to house the animals and hay for the winter.  I think I'll skip spending money on a new-to-me sofa this year in favor of getting this thing built. 

Last summer I looked forward to months of big projects, trying to do stuff myself.  This summer I've smartly found other people to do the big projects, and am instead looking forward to small projects.  The relief is incredible.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Happy Anniversary, Baby

I started this blog one year ago today.  This blog has been part journal, part writing exercise for me and I'm very glad for the discipline of writing something semi-interesting every day.  It's forced me to be a better writer and a better thinker.

I'm also endlessly thankful for you, Dear Reader.  You've helped me get chickens and goats, and not freeze over the winter and not kill plants.  Please continue to challenge me to be a better homesteader.

I'm in the middle of a catch-up weekend with stars in my eyes about maybe actually not being behind, for once.  I've cast off all social events this weekend, and right now I'm taking a break from shoveling chicken poop.  Livin' the dream, baby!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Harlequin Blue Flag Iris

Spent some satisfying time identifying this iris.  It helps to already know most of the name, 1) it's an iris. 2) woodswalker from Saratoga Woods and Waterways mentioned that Blue Flag is native to this area.  3) There are 5 kinds of blue flag irises in the country, so it was simple elimination.

I'm so glad I didn't accidentally kill these this year.  These are native to northeastern wetlands, and just about the only way to kill it is to run over it with a lawnmower, which is what I did last year.  I saw a yellow bearded iris by the house, but didn't have the camera with me at the time.

I was blogsurfing last night and came across a blog that mentioned and showed Dame's Rocket.  Now I know what's so beautiful in front of the house and at the edges of most pastures I drive by.  It's a weed, and an invasive one.  I should see if the goats like it!

It's Not Dramatic

My two goats-in-training have been working on this overgrown area for exactly a week now, and here are the pictures to show how much they've accomplished.  It's not very dramatic.

They've eaten the southeast corner completely down (they don't get the tops because they're short, and haven't yet figured out how to push the bramble down to get the youngest leaves at the top)
 They haven't moved north of the blueberry bush yet (to the right of the bush in the center of the shot).
What happens when they eat all the leaves is that the wounded plant sends energy up from it's roots to make more leaves, weakening the roots.  After goats eat the leaves a few more times, the plants will die.  No human work or herbicide required.

Here's a picture to try and make the progress look more dramatic.  Left and right of the fence looked about the same this time last week...

A San Francisco blogger writes that the Oakland City Council approved $250,000 and an additional $1.5 million in Wildfire Prevention Assessment District funds for goat grazing.  Here's the link to his blog entry:

Close to $2 Million for Grazing Goats in Oakland Hill Parks 'Maaa' Be Worth It

Friday, May 28, 2010

Last Year I Was an Idiot

Last year was my first summer at this house.  As March and April turned into May, this area was completely overgrown with thorny brambly stuff and I spent hours and hours hacking it down.  Then as this weird grass began to grow I mowed it all down.  One lone iris survived next to a rock and I got wise about what the weird grass was, real quick.  In addition to the iris, it turns out I'd hacked down some peonies as well.  I put the cutter down and vowed to let more things grow this year.  Except not the brambles.  They're going to try and take over again, if I let them.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I'm Cheating and I Don't Care Who Knows It

In two weeks my mother is coming to visit for a month.  I've been daydreaming about us having fresh tomatoes, fresh, homemade mozzarella cheese, homemade bread, fresh basil clipped off the plant.  Bruschetta, caprese salad, pesto.  There's one problem with my dreams.  The chances of my tomato plants that I nurtured from seed making actual tomatoes while my mother is still here are vanishingly close to zero.

So I'm going to cheat.  Actually, I've already cheated. I've been keeping an eye open for tomato plants that are farther along than the ones I birthed, and found some today at my almost-daily trip to a home improvement store.  This little guy has blossoms, and already has a small fruit making his way into the world.  Now he's first in my small pantheon of tomato makers.

I wouldn't be surprised if they've done unsustainable stuff to get this little guy pushing his energy into fruit instead of roots.  Maybe they've put huge numbers of little planties into a room and force-fed them so they'll grow, same as they do to sheep babies and turkey babies - to feed our voracious appetite for more, bigger stuff ... earlier.  It felt like there was a parallel to animals, and that the virtuous person wouldn't be trying to cheat nature.  But I got one of these babies anyway. 

When (not if) this guy makes some big red ones, I'm going to pluck one of them, and while it's still warm from the sun, I'm going to slice it and put it on a piece of white bread with some mayo.  If it tastes good, I'll congratulate myself for being brilliant.  Selfish, but brilliant.  If it tastes like warm cardboard on white bread, I'll say I deserved it for trying to cheat.  Or maybe I'll feed it to mom first like any good hostess (and daughter) would do, and let her be the judge.

A high school friend is coming to visit for part of next weekend (Linda, who writes the blog Multilocus) and I'm pretty psyched to see her and catch up face to face.  I don't think there's any way to have ripe tomatoes by then though!

One More Post that's Not About Homesteading

One more post where I wonder in amazement at how much my worldview is different from other folks.  Except this time I'm not wondering about men so much as wondering about home decor.  Another weighty topic!  I want to get rid of my sofa.

I got it for $75 from craigslist shortly after I moved in.  Its qualifications were that it's a sleeper sofa, and it's short - only 75 inches long.  It's been a wonderful sofa.  I slept on it as a bed for 3 months that first winter.  Pretty uncomfortable, but when you don't have options, you use what you got.  Now I have sleeping capacity for 11 in the house (10 more than I need, ha ha), and I find this sofa extremely uncomfortable to sit on or lie on.

What I'm looking for, on craigslist, is a dark brown naugahyde sofa.  I'm not going to pay new sofa prices because this is a want, not a need.  My current sofa may be uncomfortable but it's perfectly usable.  I'd like to get something that a dog (ahem) won't want to lie on.  Or if she does, can be cleaned by wiping it off.  Dark brown is a good farmhouse color because it doesn't show dirt quickly.  Dark brown also fits the decor of my house better.  Nobody really sells naugahyde any more, so I've been looking at leather, even though I'd prefer fake leather.

Here's what people are selling:

Or this

or this

These people must not ever be around dirt!  A sofa like this would look OK in my house for about 10 minutes!  A majority of the sofas for sale look like this - light colored.

There are some nice darker fabric ones, but muddy paws would make short work of those as well.  Then there's some that are leather, but not-so-nice in color.  Apologies if anyone has this color sofa in their house, but it's too bright for me.

I've come to the conclusion that I'm far from the pack in my sofa taste.  I've been looking at craigslist several times a day to make sure that I don't miss the perfect sofa if it comes along.  I missed one a few weeks ago by 10 minutes.  Ten minutes!  I still have faith that the perfect one will come along if I keep my eyes and heart open, and don't give up.  (Oh yeah - I'm talking about sofas here, not guys!)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Newbie Goat Questions

I hope these are dumb goat questions, but I'm not sure.  So here I am asking.

Question Number 1:  How would I know if the goats had bloat?  These chilluns are much fatter than they were a few weeks ago.  Of course, a few weeks ago they mostly had their mother's milk and now they're eating all the green they can stuff into themselves.  Do these pictures look like normal goats?  I mean normal young goats?  Would they be obviously uncomfortable if they had bloat?  If they did, what should I be doing?

Question Number 2:  They don't appear to be drinking any water.  I've seen them pee a bunch of times, so maybe they're getting their water from the plants?  It's funny how as soon as one of them starts to pee, the second one starts right away.  It's catching, like yawning.

Amusing how they're not morning creatures.  The chickens are out before dawn, but I have to entice the goats to get moving at 7:00 when I have to get going to work.  They're like some people I know - move slowly and not in a very good mood in the morning. 

Let's Keep Politics Out of This, Shall We?

For a while last year, I was a member of 3 internet dating sites, all catering to different audiences.  They are OKCupid, Science Connection and FarmersOnly.  I tried FarmersOnly because I read about it in Jenna Woginrich's book, Made From Scratch, and looked forward to meeting big, strapping, single farmer guys.  I gave up on FarmersOnly many months ago, and had forgotten about it until I got an email from them saying my membership would expire soon.

I hit the website early this morning to see if there was any interesting reason to stay involved with these folks. 

This is from the profile of a guy that emailed me recently:
Ideal Match???
She Loves our Lord.
She agrees that our government is way out of control.WAAAY TO BIG. Too many crooks in the white house. Too much power, taxes are too high, and our freedom and liberties are compromised, and we must stop it.

Here is an email I got a few months ago, after telling this guy that I'm not a fan of Rush Limbaugh. He's a pharmacist in Indiana and had seemed very literate and smart until this missive.
Hi JORDAN , I am sorry but I am a libertarian at heart and love my freedom from all government regulations , THE O Bama Gov. is worst than Bush and He was BAD !! I am least optimistic of this country and it'd Constitutions and THE Declaration of Independence since Jimmy Carter was in Office sorry I do not think we see life thru the same eyes , God, Country , respect of the Constitution as it was written, it is not living document . I do not want to become a Fascist and Idol worshiper I believe in Gods law as per the the DECORATION of INDEPENDENCE not O bamas sorry for your time please read Common Sense By Thomas Payne the original or the new version by Glen Beck if you understand EITHER please E mail Back,you sound Prosperity is your work HOPE YOU CHANGE Jeff

And here is an email from a pilot in Nebraska,
Hi Jordan,
I am surprised that so many people can be happy with a president who was born in Kenya and not in the US and not in accord with the laws of the land. You are right, --- we would certainly not be compatible. I need a rational conservative, not a liberal socialist, and there are plenty of conservative women on this site because I have had many positive comments about my likes and my choices and my disdain for the liberal communists. 
At any rate, I wish you well.  Jerome

Interesting that people think it's OK to be so insulting, and interesting how much some people ascribe to the "either you agree with me or you're a fascist/socialist/communist" school of thought.  I go to internet dating sites not to find someone who thinks just like me, but to find someone who is a good person and has a good heart, but can also articulately explain why they think a certain way and are open to debate.  I love discussions like that.  I did not bring up politics with any of these folks - partly because I don't view which political wing someone is from as being all that important, as long as it's from the saner part from either wing.

Anyhow - after a few minutes looking through this detritus of months of wasted time, I decided not to renew my membership to that dating site.  The thing that makes me sad is how much time and energy I've spent on this and the two other sites, although to be fair, in the depths of winter there's not much else going on.

I ran, ran, ran last night until about 10:30 when I collapsed in the hammock to take a few minutes before bed.  I started to try and bargain with God about bringing Pancho back (I read Pet Cemetary, so I'm wary of asking for anything that might make weird stuff happen), but then it deteriorated into me asking Him to tell me something, anything. Here's what came to my mind.  What if God told me now that I'm going to be alone for the rest of my life?  Would that change anything that I'm doing?  I could stop spending time trying to find Mr Right on the internet or anywhere else. I don't think about things like that often, especially when I don't even have time to make dinner because I'm trying to get so many things done.  But what I do think about is "am I spending my time and energy on things that add value to my life".  For the most part, the answer to that one is, "yes."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Avoiding Confrontation

I spent a few days percolating about whether to contact the Harlem lady to tell her that using goats to clean up the Japanese Knotweed in her back yard is not unreasonable, and if she were writing this next year, I might offer to bring Penny and Coco on down.

This afternoon I decided to check out the comments and possibly add one to the list.  It's a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained in my book.  I could hear nothing back, or she could be intrigued.  What I saw when I read the comments was an atmosphere full of vitriol and heavily leaning towards Round Up.  Many folks told her goats were a stupid idea and Round Up is a smart idea.  That's when I realized that it's not really a case of me having nothing to lose.  I have no desire to be told I'm an idiot.  So I passed on the idea of commenting.

It made me think of Saturday morning, when I also avoided confrontation.  For the second time in as many months, I heard music in my yard early in the morning.  It wasn't loud, but having to listen while rude people inflict their 30-year old music on me drives me nuts.  It didn't bother me in the city, because that's just part of the ambience of a noisy place.  But in the country, for me to hear music 1/8 of a mile away means that someone is playing it very loud.  Much louder than necessary.  Especially at 8:00 in the morning on Saturday. 

I thought that it's possible the person didn't know that other people could hear the music, but dreaded the thought of pissing someone off out here in the wilderness.  People can be unreasonable.  Especially the kind of people who play music really loud.  (As an aside, this pet peeve of mine started when I lived in a penthouse apartment in Cleveland after my divorce.  No, it wasn't as nice as it seems.  The apartment sucked, but I did get half the roof!  My only neighbor was an architect who had parties at night for the bar workers after the bars closed.  Picture being roused from sleep by thumping bass at 3 am more nights than not.  It totally sucked. Totally.  Sucked.)

Long story long, as I was considering driving down to introduce myself to loud music person, the music stopped.  Confrontation avoided.

Years ago, when I worked at GEICO, I told my boss that I don't like confrontation and he laughed me out of the room.  He gave me an example of earlier that day when a vice president of IT was wrong and I firmly told her something or other.  He told me that I'm not afraid of confrontation at all.  Interesting to hear someone else's viewpoint, but I wonder what he would have said as I struggled with myself about whether to confront loud music person.

PS.  It occurred to me later that I may be able to contact the Harlem writer without becoming fodder for the commentocracy by using email instead of a comment.  I'll let you know if anything comes out of it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Last Frost

Chives in the heavy morning dew.

The last frost is something that you track in the rear view mirror.  You don't know when it's going to happen until afterwards.  After a warm April and a cold, snowy snap at the beginning and middle of May that had me shivering and the apple blossoms dying, I think the last frost is passed.

I took a chance over the weekend and planted basil and tomatoes in the raised beds, and transplanted more basil into cups. I think next year I won't nurse as many plants from seed.  It makes sense for varieties that I can't buy at the store, or heirlooms.  But I'm a total beginner at this - it will be a few years before I attempt heirloom stuff.  Until then, $3.48 for 3 basil plants is cheaper than the amount of time I've spent on these babies.  Oh, I understand that they will taste out-of-this-world, but still, I have to ration things that suck time, and started plants will likely still taste out-of-this-world!

When I have the goat business running (and who knows how many years away that will be), I won't be home to take care of chickens or needy plants.  I'll be camping with goats in weedy places.  Chickens will be in the freezer and the garden will be a weedy mess.  I drove to work this morning envying (as I always have) the ruddy-faced, healthy-looking construction and landscaping dudes driving big pickup trucks, because they get to work outside.  But this morning, I caught myself mid-envy and thought, "just be patient.  Soon enough you'll be outside, too.  Then, you'll fully appreciate the sacrifice of driving to work in a suit, windows closed, hair perfectly coiffed. Be patient.  You're doing what you can."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Happier Hens

Destroying an over-ripe mango.

They're beginning to lay eggs again.  I got 3 eggs yesterday from these 5 hens.  For the last month in the playhouse, only one hen was still laying, every other day.  I actually had to buy store-boughten eggs.  Horrors!  But I deserved it for treating them so badly.

The goats have been eating, resting, eating, and whining for me to come keep them company.  It's cute. Coco likes raisins - thanks for the suggestion Melanie!  Penny has no use for stinkin' raisins.  Still don't have anything to tempt Penny, except that she likes having her face scratched like a cat.  They both love the minerals I bring for them in the evening, which is how I get the leashes on to take them back to shelter for the night.  Since I put the dogs away in the house in the morning and evening to move the goats, I suspect that the goats will eventually follow me unleashed.  But I'm not ready to take that chance, it's only been 2 weeks of this and practice with the leash is not a bad thing.  They're getting to be pretty good leash goats.

Still no Pancho.  He's been gone 6 nights, so far.

Moving the Goats to Second Place

It took me TWO hours yesterday to set up the fencing for the goats' second place.  It was a judgment problem and a tools problem.  A judgment problem because I don't have a feel for how much space I can enclose with a 163-foot piece of fencing. And a tools problem because I didn't take any tools to clear the line for the fence. 

As I get more practice (there's that word, "practice" again!), I'll get better at knowing when to turn back for the beginning of the fence to enclose an area.  I'll also get more sections of fence, like the pros have.  As it was, I used up one section of fence at about the halfway point, so had to free up a second, smaller piece that was protecting the raised beds.  Then, I still had a 6-foot opening to close.  So I had to go around and move a bunch of the posts (meaning clear more fenceline) a few times before I got it right.  It was frustrating, but this is exactly the stuff I need to learn and practice.

This area is completely overgrown with brambly things, so I mostly used my shoe to push the brambles down.  The pros would use a weedwhacker, or Craig Madsen (who owns Healing Hooves and I spent 3 days with in Seattle) used a machete.

Then the goats spent more of the day whining about the newness of it all than eating, even though there's a very yummy smorgasbord waiting for them.  Looks like they need the practice too, but to give them credit, they're doing great for 10 or 11 weeks old.

I brought up Craig Madsen and Healing Hooves for a reason.  My google alert on the word "goat" turned him up.  Him and his goats are in the news in the Wenatchee World newspaper in Washington state. 

Craig is a former NRCS person who quit the NRCS to start his goat-eating business about 10 years ago.  He's got 250 goats, and a few sheep that he takes all over Washington state.  He's one of the 3 companies that I spent time with two summers ago (also Tammy Dunakin of Rent-A-Ruminant and Brandi and Brandon of Terra Vita).  The article is about a contract he has with the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery and says that Craig also has contracts with Seattle City Light, Pacific Lutheran University and King County.  New York or New England versions of the same organizations are potential future clients for me.
Here's the link to the article.
Here's a link to the Healing Hooves website.

Caution: Goats at work

Nature’s weed eaters keep nasty plants under control

Craig Madsen watches as his goats exit the trailer. About 250 goats from Healing Hooves LLC of Edwall spent the weekend eating weeds around the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery. “It’s such a natural way to eradicate the problem,” said Corky Broaddus, hatchery spokeswoman. The goats eat diffuse knapweed and dalmatian toadflax, two noxious weeds that will take over the 40-acre area if left uncontrolled.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wall Street Journal Person Curious About Goat Rental

A writer who is renovating a brownstone in Harlem and writing about it for the Wall Street Journal is looking for a local goat owner willing to rent her some goats for her backyard.

I didn't see this article in the WSJ (I get behind during the week and catch up over the weekends).  I saw this article because I have a google alert on the word "goat."  Usually the links provided by google are about goat cheese or movies, but once a week or so, there's a piece about using goats to eat weeds, somewhere in the country.

Should I tell her that I've got two young-uns in training for exactly that job?  Maybe in a year I can put Penny and Coco in the back of the car and drive them down to New York City for a gig eating Japanese Knotweed in a Harlem backyard.  If only the weeds would wait for us to be ready!  Maybe there'll be another writer or newsperson looking for goats to rent, later, when me and the goats are ready for prime-time.

Call in the Goats: As Renovation Progresses, Weeds Crop Up

I knew that renovating a Harlem brownstone would be difficult, but I can't believe that it has come to this: I am seriously considering renting a goat.

Here's the link.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Moving the Coop

Before I bought this coop kit, I called the guy up to ask him if one person could move the coop.  He said, "yes," and so I bought the thing.

Maybe one person can move it on a flat, paved driveway.  When I finished the coop on Sunday, I tried mightily to move the coop on my bumpy, ungraded 200-year old, (did I say bumpy?) yard, and failed.  So today on the way home from work, I stopped at the hardware, bought two clothesline hooks and a short length of chain, and moved the coop with the lawn tractor.

It worked well!  The chickens LOVE the dirt I've put them on.  The first thing they did was give themselves a nice long dirtbath.

And the dogs LOVED all the chickens**t I left for them to clean up.  I couldn't stop saying the word "chickens**t"  Telling the dogs they're full of it, thanking the chickens for making so much of it, etc, etc.  It got me to wondering why we call people chickens**t or even why we call them chicken sometimes.  I don't see a link.  One of my chickens is actually pretty brave for such a defenseless creature.  Does anybody know where the term comes from?

Scope Creep

My sister sent me an email a week or so ago saying that they had bought a new radio for their car that had a USB and a AUX input in front for playing portable music.  That got me to thinking, as my car radio is 8 years old and is not working very well any more (partly because I dropped the face in DC in 2004 and knocked something off).  So I did a bit of research and bought a cheap car radio online.  Reviews for this radio spoke about how easy it was to install.  Just pull the old radio out with some nifty tool, and plug in wire harnesses.  Good thing, because I wasn't planning on spending any money to get this thing installed.

Well, as this picture shows, the install was a bit harder than I anticipated.  The nifty tool didn't work because my radio was tightly attached with lots of screws buried far beneath the dashboard.  Of course I didn't know that when I tried the nifty little tool and failed. As each little step failed, I found myself going farther and farther into the depths of my car.  In the project management world, this is called "scope creep."  Wednesday night found me cutting and splicing individual wires from one wire harness into another one.  Thursday morning saw me driving to work with parts of my dashboard hanging loose and free, commando-style.  After a lunchtime surgery session in the car, a quick internet search and an emergency re-opening of the dashboard wound, the whole thing is back together and working nicely.

I didn't expect this radio install to be the project that it was, but as the scope of the project creeped bigger and bigger, I was determined to get it done before the weekend.  I'm not going to do any projects this weekend.  This weekend, I'm going do little things.  Transplant tomatoes, finish cleaning up from the chicken coop project, move the goats to a new area, etc, etc.  Nothing special.  This weekend, I'm going to putter

If Pancho isn't back later today, I'm going to make a few flyers to give to the peeps on my street to see if anyone has seen him.  It's doubtful, since people are about 5% of the options, while wild is about 95%, but I've got to try. It takes some getting used to, this idea that there's nothing I can do to bring him back. As well as the idea that he may not come back.  It's my first loss like this.  Ever.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Coming Home to Roost

Even though I've had chickens for several months, they haven't had the opportunity to go in and out of a roosting area until Sunday.  They still haven't quite figured it out.

Every evening when it starts getting dark, they start doing this.  Looking at the roost area, walking around the ramp, or other things that show me they want to go to bed.  They'll even stand at the bottom of the ramp and gaze up or lean on the ramp looking up.

Every evening (four, so far), I've had to go in and physically put them on the ramp.  Yesterday, I put their little feets on the step and showed them, by moving their feet, how to walk from one step to the next.  Not entirely sure when they'll "get it."  Two nights ago 2 hens went up by themselves, but last night one of them forgot again.  For you chicken experts out there, should I just leave them and they'll figure it out on their own, or am I doing the right thing?

Still no Pancho.  Maggie is morose and Sparky is glum.  Me, too.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Curious Goats

One advantage to putting the goats near the driveway is the experience they're getting with various mechanical equipment.  I took this picture as I was mowing the lawn (cutting the grass for us southerners) on Sunday.  They're not afraid of the lawnmower!

I haven't seen one of my cats (Pancho) since Monday night.  I'm hoping he'll show up none the worse for wear sooner or later.  Hopefully sooner.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

This Year's Apples

I suspect that this year's apples won't be as good as last years.  I know, I'm an expert now because I've got ONE whole season of apples behind me!  Here's why I think it won't be as good.

Spring came early this year, and the apple blossoms popped open at the beginning of May.  Then it froze and then it snowed, twice.  And then it froze again.  Now the apple blossoms are mostly gone.  I'm thinking that honeybees didn't do their bee-ly duty in the frost and wind and snow.  A bunch of eager plants that grew quickly when it was warm in April had their little leaves frozen off in our cold snap of May, and are brown, and frizzled now.

I'm far from an expert on apple seasons (or anything except process improvement), so we'll see whether I'm right or wrong about this.  I'll let you know in 5 months!

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Payoff and Full House

On Sunday I finished the chicken coop and then sat around for a bit watching the animals.  First the chickens, then the goats, and then the chickens again.

At some point during this sitting and watching time, I got hungry.  Not in the mood for anything complex, I pulled some things from the fridge, cheese that I made, toasted bread that I had made with butter that I made on it, and some wine and crackers.

"Aah," I thought, as I enjoyed my lunch.  "Here is where the payoff begins."

I've been working hard on chickens and goats, and plants, and cheese and hard cider, and other things, but haven't enjoyed terribly much of the output so far.  I've been learning about a zillion skills setting myself up for a payoff ... ... some time in the future.  It was nice to sit still for a moment and experience the beginning of the payoff.

The reason I can have bread so easily is because I now have a stove for bread cooking!  The feeling of finally having a stove reminds me of when I was married and we finally got a washer and dryer.  Up until then, I had been taking 10 loads of laundry every other week to the laundrymat.  For years.  Having a washer and dryer was life-changing because it gave me something I didn't realize was missing.  The ability to stay at home and do these home things.  I've never taken having a washer and dryer for granted since then.

Having a working oven satisfies me in similar ways.  I can survive just fine without one.  But with one, I can do things so much more easily than before, without thinking or plotting how to get things cooked.  It's like a key just clicked into a slot.  Now, with a working stove, my house is full.    Replete.  Satiated.

The Coop - I Was Surprised Again

On Saturday I posted that there was only one more thing to do to finish putting the chicken coop together, but that I may still have a nasty surprise waiting for me.  The last task was to measure, cut and attach the hardware cloth.  Here's a picture mid-measuring.

It turns out that there was indeed a nasty surprise in the wings that I discovered when I pulled out the fasteners.  I have nothing that can drive these.  No drill attachment, no socket, no crescent wrench.  Nothing.

So I had to make an emergency trip to the hardware store to buy a 5/16" nut driver, something I have never needed in almost 20 years of owning and working on various homes.  And a trip to the hardware is not a quick trip for someone who lives in the woods.  Bleh!

It turned out that a short trip away from the 'stead was a good idea.  The dogs, the goats and me all got a chance to practice what it feels like when mommy drives away while the goats are out.  I didn't expect the goats to be so upset by me leaving!  The dress rehearsal helped though - this morning's departure went well.

The rest of yesterday was uneventful.  I finished the coop and put the chickens into the roost part of the coop.  Here's the dogs being verrry interested.
An hour later the chickens hadn't come out and Desmond and Maggie got tired of waiting.
Since there was nothing to see with the chickens, I went to watch the goats.
Eventually I came back and manually moved the chickens out of the roost.  They're happy!  When evening came and it began to get darker, they started to get a little upset, waiting to go back to their old coop.  I had to physically take each chicken and show her how to go up the ramp into the roost.  We're all still learning! This time, the lesson was for me, the chickens and the dogs.

After a tremendous amount of work in the past few weeks, and a big weekend of adjustment for the dogs, goats, chickens and me, I can begin to see how the new pattern is going to settle in.  It feels like those cartoons where the character morphs into another shape, but during the transition, the character is all sorts of weird sticky-outy shapes.  That's what the past few weeks have been for us here.  I'm still tense, relatively speaking, but I can see the peace on the horizon.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Saturday Stuff

I didn't get the chicken coop finished yesterday because I was surprised by something.  I was merrily working my way through pages 6 and 7 (of 10) on the instructions and I pulled out a piece off threaded rod, 5/8" thick with some tape on it.

Whaa???  Holy crap!  How am I going to cut 5/8-inch rod in half?  So I tried the jigsaw.  Dulled and broke a jigsaw blade, tried the hacksaw for waay too long, and then finally remembered my trusty sawzall.  Thankfully, I happen to have a metal-cutting blade (for all the nails I cut through with this thing years ago).  The sawzall made short work of it, but something I did screwed up the first thread, making the whole piece unusable until I spent another hour on it figuring out how to fix my mistake.  I finally just cut the offending thread off.  Thanks again sawzall!  I luurve you, sawzall! 

I'm past the point of being mad about this coop "kit."  To be constructive, I've started a very long list of carefully worded suggestions that I'll send to the company owner/seller after I finish.  I'm hoping to finish today.  There's only one thing left to do - of course I may be surprised again...

Someone came over for dinner yesterday and we broke into the cheese I've had aging.  The muenster cheese has been aging since February 22 and two rounds of gouda have been aging since mid-March.  The muenster was yummy and the gouda was ... interesting.  One of the gouda rounds has started to get liquid-y around the edges and was more flavorful than the other.  Unfortunately I didn't keep track of which round came from which process (one of them had it's cream skimmed off and I tried and failed to make butter with it.  So I put the cream back and made gouda.  The other one went through the normal gouda-making process.)  Which is which, I have no idea.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Morning Firsts

We had a bunch of "firsts" today, all before 9 in the morning!

I set up a piece of fencing across the street around the old overgrown barn foundation.

I led the goats over and put them in.

I walked away from the goats, into the house, and let the dogs out.

Walked back over to the goats, Maggie barked and whined and scared the goats (this area is outside the dog fence).

Both goats ran through the fence.  I caught them, leashed them and put them back in.

Now I'm in the house blogging, Maggie is acting like she's scared I don't love her any more and attaching herself to me, and the goats are outside, their first time outside on the job, alone, without me.  I'm verklempt.

I have this idea that it'll be an utter catastrophe if the goats get out, or a dog chases a goat, or who knows what I haven't even imagined yet.  I have a feeling that once those things actually happen once or twice, I'll get over the whole "catastrophe" thing.  So we're all learning.  Me, the goats, and the dogs.  The cats and the chickens are lesson-free so far today.

But the day is still very young!  If all goes well, the chickens will have a new house today.  Fingers crossed, and time to get cracking!  (Yes, the stove is still here.  I've forgotten oh, about 8 times to call Sears and have them come get it.  And yes, the dirt is still there, too.  Don't judge.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Goats and Kudzu and Practice

Kudzu is the perfect food for goats.  It's high protein and grows fast. 

Here's an article about the city of Knoxville, TN using goats for kudzu control, copying Chattanooga's lead.

I fed my goats some garlic mustard, another invasive yesterday, and they ate it up! Control of invasives is where I want to go with my goats.  Although kudzu is not an invasive up here, there are plenty others.

I worked on more goat-y groundwork yesterday by letting them freely into the fenced area while I sat down on the ground. As Melanie wrote, they were curious about me and came to vist regularly.  Whenever they touched the fence or something disturbed them, they came running (more like bouncing) in my direction, a good sign.  These ladies will be the leaders of my future herd, so if they're fence trained and well-behaved, hopefully they'll teach the future others.

It wasn't difficult to get them back into the shed at all, since I had some brambly treats in reserve.  There's not enough greenery in this area to keep them interested for long, so I'll set up another fence either tonight or tomorrow and move the battery over.  Practice for me in how to manage fences and batteries, one of the goals of getting some goats now.  Practice.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Morning Chores

The sun rising through the lilacs.

I expected my morning routine to change completely with the arrival of the goats.  No more leisurely meandering through the morning starting at 5:30 and eventually tooling off to work about 7:15-7:30.  I expected to have problems figuring out how to fit a shower, breakfast, and minor housecleaning in with the goats and chickens, but it turns out that it hasn't been that hard at all.

What I've done is stop turning on the computer in the morning.

I don't go out to see the animals first thing after I get up.  I'd forget something for sure, and one trip would turn into two or three.  Nope, I'll do everything to get ready except get dressed for work.  Then do the animal chores, come in, get dressed for work and then go.

It turns out that no computer in the morning is not much of a loss.  I can concentrate on fewer things and the morning is more peaceful (exactly the way mornings should be).

I'm just curious how other people do it.  For those of you that have animals, do you do your morning animal chores first thing, or wait until later?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wordless Wednesday (Almost)

The goats sticking their nose up at yummy apple slices. Maybe it'll take them a while.  They just realized that they like hay after giving it a pass for several days.  Now, if I painted the apple slices green and cut them in the shape of a leaf ... yum.

More practice with the leashes.  It's getting a little easier.

These goats have the option of wood chip bedding or hay.  Looks like they chose hay for last night's bed.

Another blogger wrote about how little time it takes to own animals.  I'm not finding that true at all, but since I'm relatively new at this, I'm investing more time with each group.  Last night I got home from work an hour late, spent an hour taking care of dogs, chickens, cats and goats, so only had an hour left before dark to work on the coop.  Spent most of that hour figuring out how to make something fit, and poof, that time was gone.  Then inside for a little din and done for the day. Zzzz in the cold, cold house and woke to snow.  It's time for it to get warm now!!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Shock of It All

I had to take Desmond to the vet yesterday to get his staples taken out, which gave me a chance to come home mid-day to see how everything was going, and then work from home for the rest of the day (after almost 3 hours of driving in the middle of the day, but that's what happens when you live in the woods).

The neighbor dogs came over and noticed the goats.  Now one of them understands the fence in a whole new way.  Ouch!

I took the goats out for a walk-ish and one of them was "touched" by the fence as well.  The smaller, darker goat is extrmely jumpy and afraid of me.  The larger one is calmer.  One night this week, I'm going to put out another fence section in a greener part of the yard and let them out for a while.  I'm a little terrified of poisoning them. I know about the rhododendrons and pieris japonica being poisonous to goats, but need to bone up on other things.

Thinking about the chicken coop in progress.  There's only one way to get it off my back, and that's to finish it. I may have made the wrong decision in choosing this coop over making one from scratch, but it doesn't change what needs to be done. Finish it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Chicken Coop Saga Continues

It's getting dark outside, so my time to make progress on the chicken coop is over for today.  In hindsight, I should have built a simpler coop from scratch instead of buying a "kit" for this complex thing.
The next step is to slide those PVC pieces through the holes that I had to drill in the top and bend them down into holes in the base that I had to drill in the base (do you see the beginning of a theme here?  This doesn't seem to be a kit at all since I've had to do so much of the cutting and drilling. And of course most of this drilling requires pre-drilling).  The instructions very helpfully say that I have to bend both sides of the PVC at once, which will be very interesting, if I can even do it.  I'm a little concerned that the extreme cold will make the PVC brittle and I'll break it instead of bending it.

Then I'm supposed to pre-drill and countersink some more stuff through the PVC to attach it to the wood.  I don't own a countersink.  I didn't see countersink on the list of tools I'd need, so I didn't buy one.  I'm going to fake it with a larger drill size and hope I don't drill all the way through by accident.  That would make me angry.  Oh wait.  I'm already angry.  27 different kinds of angry about this freakin' thing.

I loved Karen Sue's idea about carrots as a treat for the goats.  Except these goats don't seem to like carrots, or anything else I give them that's not leafy branches.  I have a feeling it's me they don't like, at least until they get used to me, and I have a feeling I'm going to have to spend a ton of time getting them used to me.  I wonder where that time is going to come from?

Chicken Coop is Progressing

Even though it was COLD (brief high of 42) and tremendously windy, blogreader Kate stopped over and helped me start to put together the new coop.  Thanks Kate!  She observantly noticed that the instructions say it should take 30-40 hours to put together the coop, something I didn't notice because I was skimming the instructions to get to the parts about what to do.

The goats are beginning to settle down a bit. I'm hesitant to let them out into their corral because there's not much greenery in it.  Ie, they'll run out of food quickly and start thinking about how to get out.  My whole plan is predicated on them respecting the electric fence, so I want to carefully control how they "meet" the fence.  I'm thinking about putting another section of fence up in an area I want them to eat down, and moving the battery/energizer over there as well as the dog crate.  They're smaller than I expected.  They can both stand up in the dog crate, so maybe I can use that as a rain shelter.  It'd be good for moving.

I also want to get them more used to being led.  With them in the shed, it's sortof easy for me to catch them to put on the leash.  We've been having short practice sessions of leash work where I dangle brambly treats, and they follow.  I don't have a consistent thing that I know they'll come for yet, like grain or cookies, so if I let them out loose, I'm a bit concerned that I won't be able to get them back in.  Another reason for me not to be in a hurry to get them out of the shed, full-time.

I used a bungee cord to hang a bunch of blackberry cane cuttings on the wall.  They love it!

Sunday, May 9, 2010


As I write this, it's 31 degrees, about 30 degrees below normal, and the wind is blowing the trees sideways.  Last weekend when it was 85 degrees, I took down all the storm windows, so the wind is blowing right through the house.  The wood stove and the electric heater can't keep up, same as when it's 10 degrees outside, the storm windows made that much difference. The warmest I can get it in here is 65.

I worked incredibly hard yesterday to get all the coop parts primed and painted and started to put the parts together in anticipation of finishing the job outside today and getting the chickens into the new coop.  I thought I was buying a kit that needed to be painted and assembled, but this kit still needs sawing, drilling, etc, etc.  Instructions have been confusing about what needs to be painted, sawed, etc, So I cut off a part I wasn't supposed to cut (a very difficult thing to recover from), and you can see that the painting isn't right.  I can go back later and do touch-up painting, but it took a while to figure out how to fix my cut off mistake.

Of course, it's so cold now, I can't imagine spending the time outside that would be needed to get the coop together.  Even though I spent most evenings since Tuesday and all day yesterday figuring this thing out, it's all been the easy parts so far.  I'll try to get some of it done, but I think the chickens are going to have to wait a little longer.  One of them "bit" me a few times yesterday as I was feeding them.  I feel their pain - I'm trying to hurry and get them better space.

The goats are fine, I guess.  Thankfully, I've heard other goats being weaned, so I'm hoping that the fact that they're screaming bloody murder a bunch is because they're being weaned and they want their mom, not because life is really that bad.  They're 8 weeks old, so they're not too young for this.

I took them out a bit last night.  I haven't named them yet.  I'm thinking about calling them Penny and Coco, based on their color.  Banana bread didn't tempt them at all, but an apple branch with fresh blossoms got them following me a bit.  I hardly slept at all last night, imagining the wind blowing the shed over, or lots of other bad scenarios, and I suspect that other aspects of my low mood have a lot to do with that lack of sleep.  That and the extremely cold weather.  Yuck.