Sunday, May 1, 2016

May in Maine...

Because several of my loyal readers have expressed sadness now that the April A-Z challenge is over, I thought I'd do another themed month of blogging.  Since spring is busting out all over here in Maine, (despite the temperature dipping into the 20's most nights) and because this time of year is rife with lots of photo opportunities and joyous developments, I am taking my daughters suggestion and blogging about "May in Maine" for the next 30 days.  I hope you will enjoy a peek into the vernal developments here at Fairwinds.

Early spring is when daffodils, jonquils and crocus make an appearance.  How they manage to come up through the cold ground, and bloom despite freezing temperatures and sometimes snow, is beyond me.  But never are flowers more welcome than these, bright harbingers of warmer days. Driving around the countryside one can see them coming up in cheery swaths, sometimes in unlikely looking places. They may mark where some old homestead once stood.  The only memory left, blooming for generations past the time some gentle hand planted their bulbs on a crisp autumn day, knowing how sweet it would be to see them after a long, bitter winter.

And so it is with the lilacs. Though they won't bloom until Memorial Day, the wee leaves are unfurling from tight buds, and if you look closely the promise of their fragrant flower is clustered in  small, wine colored nubs along the branches.  They grow riotously here, sending out shoots of new plants all around the base of their trunks.  It is hard to find an older home in Maine that does not have a lilac, or 20, growing around the place.  Some properties have entire hedges of them, perfuming the air with the unforgettable aroma of summer when they are at their peak. But for now they are just a happy insinuation.

The crab apple tree has diminutive leaf clusters springing up along its branches.  Last autumns fruit still hangs, shriveled and tired.  And that is how May begins in Maine.  Greening, growing life insistently pushing aside the remnants of winter.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Luna's gift... Zany!

Since that first evening when my husband suggested we bring home a dairy goat, we have had many a zany adventure involving our caprine herd. There have been walks with goats on leashes that turned into the goats in question taking the human on the end of the tether for a brisk drag. There was the very smelly buck in the back seat of my truck. There have been times when young goats danced on the horses back, on the barbecue grill, on the chicken coop, and even on the picnic table when it was set for supper and had guests seated along the benches.  My goats have slipped in the pet door, run amok around the house and nibbled on the furniture before we could catch them and usher them back to the pasture.

I have learned oh so many things... how to give injections and deal with internal and external parasites. How to deliver kids and trim hooves and balance nutrition. How to milk and make soap and cheese and yogurt.  I've gotten to know the nice woman at the feed store and the large animal veterinarian on a first name basis. The neighbors refer to me as, "That lady with all the animals."

Just today my husband and I got roped into driving 2 hours each way to pick up two little newborn bottle baby kids that my daughter had arranged to buy.  She had to work and the dairy where the goats were born wanted them gone, so off we went with a dog crate in the back seat.  It was a lovely day for a drive, and for getting a bit lost, which we did.  Then we trundled two confused little babies into the crate and went out to lunch. With goats in our car.  But that didn't seem too strange when the lady in the car next to us showed me two pretty little chickens she had just bought. It's nice to know I'm in good company.

Here are the new kids.  My daughters first goats of her own.  They are tentatively named Barley and Hops.  It is cold out tonight, so they are snuggled up in a crate in the house. House goats, for heavens sake! 

And it all began with Luna...

 The love, the learning, the hard work and fun and ridiculous moments.  It's all been part of Luna's gift. I am so grateful.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Luna's gift... Yogurt

I have long admired people who make at home what most people buy at the grocery store.  When my friend Marion mentioned that she was making a batch of yogurt she had my rapt attention.  "It's not hard," she told me. I didn't believe her.

Yogurt is the Turkish word for milk that has been curdled with a lactic starter. It can be made from any kind of milk; cow, sheep, goat or even soy milk. Here in the U.S. we are used to eating yogurt made from cows milk, which is then thickened with things like modified food starch, gelatin, or carrageean. Yogurt made at home, without those thickening agents, may not have the same texture as what you are used to, but it is delicious and so good for you!

And it turns out that Marion was right, as usual.  I did some research on making yogurt with goat milk and gave it a whirl. It wasn't hard!

First I heated the fresh milk up to 185 degrees.  Then I chilled it back down to around 110 degrees.  Next I stirred some yogurt cultures (alternately I could have  used some plain yogurt from the grocery store) to a bit of the milk. This was stirred up well, then mixed  in to the rest of the warm milk.  Next it went into my marvelous yogurt maker, which keeps the mix at a nice even temperature. The magic number is around 110-115 degrees. The yogurt then incubates for 8-10 hours.

After that I popped it in the fridge. And then I tried it.

Mixed in with some fresh fruit... tangy, a little sweet, and just delicious.  I make yogurt myself all the time now.  I whip up amazing fruit smoothies, or I have it in a little bowl with a droozle of honey and a handful of walnuts.  Yogurt is full of beneficial bacterial called probiotics that are known to boost the immune system and aid in digestive health.

And it tastes great. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Luna's gift... X rated.

That first year that we had goats I tried to find a male goat, or buck, to come visit. I wanted to breed the girls so we could have kids in the spring and milk for the coming year.  Goats have a 5 month gestation period, and most types of goats only breed in the fall.  You can tell when a female comes into estrus because she become more vocal, more affectionate, and will wag her tail often and with great vigor.  I didn't have much luck finding a buck to borrow. My friend suggest I buy one, keep him until the girls were bred and then sell him.  I did just that. The local swap paper had a male Nubian goat from excellent bloodlines advertised.  We went to get him on a cold October day in my pick up truck.  He rode home in the back seat.

Now let me tell you a little something about male goats.  They smell bad. During the breeding season male goats are said to be in "rut." During this time the scent glands located near their horns produce a heavy musky scent.  Girl goats find this to be irresistibly attractive. And boy goats do something else to make them smell even more "alluring"... they urinate on their faces and beards. I had read about "buck stink," but I had no frame of reference to understand what all the fuss was about.  The day we went to pick up or new Lothario, I blithely popped him into the truck and hopped happily in the passengers seat.  I got a slight whiff of goat and said to my husband, "Oh, that is not so bad..." Then I glanced over at my patient man, behind the wheel. His eyes were watering.  "I feel like I've been maced."  It was then that the full strength of the scent hit me.  We rolled our windows down, and cranked up the heat. It was a long, cold, windy, smelly ride home.  So powerful was the odor that I had a pounding headache by the time we pulled into our driveway.  We never exited a vehicle any faster.

The girls found him to be enchanting.  What followed was two weeks of x rated activity in the pasture. Then I put an ad in the same paper I found him in and sent him off to a nice farm. It took a few weeks for the pasture to lose the stench of him. 

If anyone ever tells you that something "smells like a goat," you will know for certain that it is not a compliment.

Luna's gift... Window watching...

I am lucky enough to live in an old, comfortable house.  There are lots of windows and they look out to meadow and lawn and gardens and woods.  I love how the light streams in and I love how at night the dark presses in like a hug.  But I didn't fully appreciate all the windows until we got livestock.

Where we had the goat and pony cozy built is on a high spot of the property so the drainage is good. And the entrance faces south to protect them from incoming storms. It also happens to be easily visible from both the living room and my work studio.  It delights me to look out and see the animals lounging in the sun, playing,  eating, or getting a long drink of water.

The pasture stretches out behind the house, so while I am in the dining room or kitchen I can glance out and see the animals grazing. I look past the winter speckles on the glass and see the horse and goats moving about in a loose group.  Cars slow down when they pass, people staring at the tranquil scene.
I find myself pausing often just to gaze out. Pleasant little pauses in my daily rounds.

 "I feel that it is healthier to look out at the world through a window than through a mirror.   Otherwise, all you see is yourself and whatever is behind you." Bill Withers

I feel that it is healthier to look out at the world through a window than through a mirror. Otherwise, all you see is yourself and whatever is behind you. Bill Withers
Read more at:
I feel that it is healthier to look out at the world through a window than through a mirror. Otherwise, all you see is yourself and whatever is behind you. Bill Withers
Read more at:
I feel that it is healthier to look out at the world through a window than through a mirror. Otherwise, all you see is yourself and whatever is behind you. Bill Withers
Read more at:
I feel that it is healthier to look out at the world through a window than through a mirror. Otherwise, all you see is yourself and whatever is behind you. Bill Withers
Read more at:

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Luna's gift... Vexing, vigilant and vocal

There are so many "V" words to describe my goats.
Let's just describe this mornings activities.  I am currently wearing a sling on my right (dominant) arm as I recover from a dislocated shoulder.  For the past 2 weeks my family has been pitching in to do morning livestock chores, but both husband and daughter had to leave the house at 6:00 AM for work today so I was on my own.

The goats were vigilant at the fence, waiting for my arrival. And breakfast.

They well know the time that food arrives, and they are ready.  We have put up temporary hot wire fencing to block off some of the pasture. This will keep the animals off of it while the grasses have a chance to grow and rejuvenate this spring. The horse is extremely respectful of the electric fence, the goats?  Not so much.  Luna must have been really hungry, OR she knows I turn the fence off before I come out with food, because she barged right through to get her breakfast.

After I the goats were fed and milked, I tried to lead them, one at a time, back through the electric fence.  Ella, by far the naughtiest of the goats, went on walk-about and led me on a merry chase around the pasture before I caught her and put her where I wanted her to be.  Jane and Celeste were a bit more manageable.  Luna went docilely where I asked her to go, then did a twirl and went right back out again. She had a yen to nosh on the brush pile it seemed. I left her to her own devices and fed the rabbits.  Luna looked longingly at the other goats and horse out in the big pasture. She let me lead her through the gate and joined the herd.  Vexing minx!

The three darker colored goats all have some Nubian blood. Celeste and Ella had a handsome Nubian father, and he was Jane's grandfather.  He left his mark in those LONG ears and colorful markings. And in their voices. I had read that Nubian goats are loud. They have a lot to say and make no effort to be quiet.  I thought, "How bad could it be?" It's bad. They are the most strident goats ever. Their  voices call out in clarion cries though the stillness of the meadow.  I can tell which voice belongs to which goat, and let me tell you, Jane Doe, the youngest, talks the most. Sometimes her bleats are merely conversational, other times they take on a complaining tone.  She is comical in her constant comments. And vexing.

Luna's gift... Utility

Goats are truly "utility" animals.  They can serve so many purposes, even on a very small farmlette like ours.

Let's just lay out all the things goats can do to be indispensable:
  • Excellent, entertaining companions. 
  • Produce delicious, healthy milk that can be used to make yogurt, cheese and soap.
  • Brush control.  Goats can and do graze on grass, but what is best for them is eating low, pesky, brush.  Poison ivy?  A delicacy!  Goats can clear out a scrubby area like nobody's business.
  • Fertilizer- goat "pellets" make excellent fertilizer.  They are low in odor, do not attract bugs as much as cow or horse manure, are less likely to "burn" plants.  
  • Pack animals- goats can be trained to carry a pack or pull a wagon, making them very useful for hiking or hauling things. 
  • Wool!  Did you know that some breeds of goats produce fine, warm, beautiful wool?  Angora goats are bred specifically for this reason.  Cashmere, that most coveted warm wool is from goats.  
  • Skins-Goat skins are used widely to make durable, warm garments.
  • Meat- I am so fond of my goats I rather hate to mention it, but goat meat is delicious.High in protein and low in fat, Chevon is widely eaten world wide, only recently gaining popularity here in the U.S.  It tastes a bit like beef, and a bit like lamb.
 Versatile, adorable and easy to keep, goats can be utilized in so many ways. I think everyone should have a few!