Tuesday, September 29, 2015

More about milk...

For the past several weeks I have been giving goat milk to a local friend who had an orphaned calf which was allergic to formula. The calf was tiny and very thin, but now she tips the scale at 200 pounds and is happily hanging out in a big pasture with other cows (hopefully) getting fat. Her owner told me she would be weaning the calf and had no further need for milk.

Today, after and making two quarts of yogurt and then sliding a fresh 2 quart jar of milk into the refrigerator to rub shoulders with several other full jars, I thought, "I should make cheese. I have a lot of milk." Just then my phone buzzed, and I had a message from a local woman whose sow (female pig) was very ill. She has a bunch of 9 day old piglets that needed some supplemental feeding. "Come on over," I told her.

So far these sweeties have polished off two pans of good goat milk. I hope they thrive and grow. I am so happy that my goats can help local critters.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Common Ground Fair...

Every year, in Unity, Maine, there is a wonderful, amazing, unique event called The Common Ground Fair. I have missed it the last two years because I was out of town. I was determined to attend this year. The weather was perfect. Sunny, breezy, and 70 degrees.

The fair is run by the Maine Organic Farmers Association. Everything is very "crunchy," and locals refer to it as the "Granola fair." There is no junky midway, you cannot by a soda, or find a plastic straw or any non-biodegradable utensils. The fried dough is organic and whole wheat. The lamb kabobs are from free range, grass fed critters. There are water fountains to refill the bottles you brought with you.

Many people are barefoot, women wear flowers in their hair. There are sweet children everywhere...

... and lots of animals.

Veggies and flowers were abundant...

There was music, floating on the air so sweet you could almost touch the notes...

We saw soft, warm things...

And hard, cold, beautiful things...

We ate healthy fair food, which seems like a bit of an oxymoron.

We ended the day by sitting on our sweet deck and watching the total lunar eclipse. We heard barred owls hooting, Canada geese calling, and (I think)a fox barking at the edge of the woods.

It was an uncommon day.


After morning chores I came right in and tackled kitchen cleaning. Niece Aimee and her sweet husband, Tim came from Massachusetts for a visit and supper last night, and there were mounds of dishes to take care of. The windows were shut because it got quite chilly last night. And those windows... they are dirty from a summer of bugs dancing on them and leaving behind bug poo and little dead bug bodies and general bug ick. The one over my kitchen sink is particularly heinous. I will get a ladder out this week and clean it up. I certainly don't want to be looking out that smudgy thing all winter long. At any rate, in the midst of my dish washing something outside that grimy window caught my eye. I stopped dead in my tracks looked a long moment, then hustled up my camera and marched right back outside.

Because sometimes the outside beckons and cannot be denied.

The sun was rising behind an ancient pine, and a bowl of mist had settled over the house. And it looked like this...

The animals seemed to notice the light. Ella paused her grazing to gaze.

Chanel did, too.

Luna, (who is gaining weight and feeling very perky) stopped playing with Jane and they stared at the scene.

And then the mist lifted and the sun crept over the pine. The moment was gone, but I managed to treasure that magical, enticing light while it lasted.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A little decorating...

I have to admit it. I love fall.
As much as I hate to say goodbye to summer, with it's long days and lovely evenings outside, enjoying . But still, fall is delicious to me. The colors, the cool nights (perfect for sleeping snuggled up with the one you love!) the smells, the wonder of harvest season. I love cooking fall meals like soups and stews, baking bread and apple crisp and oatmeal raisin cookies. And decorating a bit...

My friend Sonia grew the most wonderful pumpkins this year. Heritage pumpkins in a rainbow of amazing colors. She kindly let me come "shopping" on her sunny deck and I gathered up this lovely group. I could hardly wait to bring them home and create a centerpiece for my dining room table. It makes me smile every time I walk through the room.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Little miracles...

One of my Silkie chicken hens has been setting on 4 eggs. I should have marked the calendar so I'd know when they should hatch, but I did not. And the hen was prone to confusion. She was apt to get in the wrong nest box, leaving her eggs to chill. I didn't think they would hatch. Still, I checked often, and yesterday an egg was "pipping." This means the little creature inside the egg was pecking the shell so it could exit. And as it did, it made a little "peeping" sound. I checked in the evening and the egg had a wider opening, the chick was chirping, but not much progress was being made.

All the experts tell us to NOT interfere with a hatching chick. So, I put the broody mama back on her nest and went inside. This morning the egg was still mostly intact. The membranes (that bit that sometimes sticks to hard boiled eggs and is such a pain to remove) were desert-dry. The shell was hard. I decided, "what the heck!" and scooped it up and brought it in the house. I dripped drops of warm water on the membranes. In less than a minute the chick kicked, hard, and one leg was free.

I kept dripping. Soon, both legs were stretching into the air. I dripped more, and gently lifted a wee corner of shell from over the chicks head. In seconds it had stretched and moved and was free of the prison of it's shell. It flexed in my palm, chirping hopefully. The shell fragments fell away. I took it right back outside and tucked it under it's mama.

This evening the chick was upright, dry and fluffy. Hopefully by tomorrow it will be out in the coop, eating and drinking and growing and being adorable.

I started my day with life happening in my hand. Top that!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Marvelous day "off..."

I've been working many 6 day weeks during the last few months, but somehow ended up with 2 1/2 days off this weekend. Today was just... unscheduled. And that felt really nice. I had a few things to do but by 10:00 I was on the road. I did my bank deposit, and then went to Beth's farm market, one of my all time favorite places. There I stocked up on Delicata squash, a vegetable so yummy I could eat it every day. Then I headed for the "canning tomatoes," and bought a bushel of them. Right around 50 pounds of beautiful, firm, red globes.

When I got home I got right to work.

I was making a vat of tomato sauce. I got the recipe from a co-worker who is an excellent cook many years ago.

I love having hand written recipes from people. They take me back... to the moment I received the gift of it, to the relationship with the cook who shared it. They are delicious slivers of promise that live in a sweet little box that nestles up to my cookbooks. I have recipes from friends who have died, some from relatives,and some from people I barely remember. But I remember the taste of the item, and if I have the recipe it is sure to be something I really enjoyed.

I recently made something that I cook often, Corn Chowder. It is one of my daughters favorite meals. I decided to make it with a twist, and got fresh corn from a nearby farm. Then I roasted it. I made the chowder with fresh goat milk, fresh heavy cream (also from a local farm) and both local onions and potatoes. It was so good that we are still talking about it. So today I bought a dozen ears of corn, and sat in the first-day-of-fall sun while I husked it. The sun felt so fine.

Then I grilled it, until the outside had some color from the flames.

After it cooled I cut the kernels off the cob, and froze three packages of it for future batches of chowder. It will taste like summer, and make us happy.

While the corn was cooking I took a few pictures...

Chanel is feeling much better (see last post if this doesn't make sense to you.) I am on high alert, however, monitoring her compulsively. She seems to be extra affectionate since her scare, "hugging" me with her head and neck and looking deeply into my eyes with her big, lovely ones. I hope she knows I was trying to make her feel better on that difficult day. I hope.

I tossed the unused pieces of vegetables onto the manure/compost pile. The chickens run to me when they see me coming with a bowl from the kitchen. They make short work of the tomatoes and other bits of cast-off food.

The baby Silkie chicks are still tiny, but are beginning to fledge, or get their adult feathers.

They are just so special.

Once my cooking and critter enjoyment were over I had a special treat. Friend Marion invited Ziva and I over to go kayaking. We dragged the kayaks from her house down to the river behind her four wheeler. The dogs ran along, excited and full of energy. We slid into the water, and the dogs jumped in joyously, paddling along. We saw the new beaver damn up river, then turned and paddled down river. Marion's dogs know the routine. They swim a little, then race along the bank, then swim, then run. Ziva mostly swam. She paddled hard, trying to keep up, whining a little from the exertion. On the way back she learned from her efforts, and joined the other dogs trotting alongside us.

When we took the boats back up with the four wheeler, Marion let me drive a bit. It was such fun! I was hesitant and drove slowly, "HIT IT!" she'd tell me, and I'd accelerate. The dogs ran with joy, the kayaks bumped crazily behind. I squealed with glee.

Back up at the house, Marion's husband unhooked the kayaks, and had me slide back on the seat of the four wheeler. He took the handlebars and off we went, "Don't hurt her!" Marion called. "Don't scare her." I grabbed the handles. Scott said, "No, hang on to me." I wrapped my arms around his muscular waist, and away we went. Fast. Hard around the corners, crashing through narrow openings in the trees, up through the tall meadow grass and back, up the trail, faster and faster. A cow stood in the way, looking over it's shoulder at us as we approached. Then it bucked and kicked and ran from us, tail up. I whooped. Up and over a steep embankment, briefly airborne, then the engines shut down and quiet resumed. My heart raced.

My day off rated a "10."

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Plans gone awry...

This mornings dawn was picture perfect. Cool, slightly breezy, with a lovely mist over the ridge and in the meadow. I had planned a very light work day, just three pets, thinking that by noon I'd be a free agent. We thought we might go kayaking, or partake in some other pleasant outdoor activity since the day was so fine. All my normal morning chores went smoothly, and I had time to put three loaves of bread in pans to rise, and mix up a batch of yogurt to ferment. Just before I went upstairs to shower and change for work I invited Chris to join me in checking on the baby Silkie chicks, just because they are so much fun to see. As we stood in the back yard, watching them peck about in the grass and follow their powder puff parents,I happened to glance at my horse. She had an odd look on her face. I watched her a moment and became concerned, and went into her paddock to check more closely. Copious amounts of white foam were running from one nostril, and she was clearly uncomfortable. I quickly texted my veterinarian, and bless her, she called me immediately. I assumed Chanel had what horse people refer to as "choke." This happens when food gets lodged in the horses throat instead of passing to the stomach. The vet agreed once she heard my description. She suggested I try to get her to drink something, and massage her neck to see if I could dislodge what was stuck. Chris suggested I add some molasses to water to encourage her to drink, an excellent idea. I mixed up a bowl and took it out. She tried to drink but could not. I massaged her neck, she hated it. Meanwhile, she was beginning to sweat. I called the vet back and she kindly agreed to come out.

I had pets to groom, so Saint Chris (which is how I think I should refer to him hereafter) agreed to go assist. He is not an animal person by nature, but quips that he is one by osmosis. As I groomed I peered out the window at the vet, the husband and the horse. As soon as my customer left I beat it outside to the pony shed. As I approached the vet said, "You aren't going to freak out are you?" It was then that I noticed the blood.

When the vet attempts to clear whatever is choking the horse, they insert a long flexible rubber hose up the nostril,hopefully breaking up whatever mass is blocking the esophagus. During this time they may pump clear water in through the tube to assist in flushing the blockage. Today, when the tube was inserted, it caused a massive nose bleed. As in, a quart or two of blood, dripping at a rapid rate, out the nose. In the photo below the vet is holding an ice pack on Chanel's face to help slow the bleeding. The event lasted a long time. When it was over the pony gave a mighty snort and blew out a blood clot the size of a 6" deli submarine sandwich. And when I say "blew," I mean over me, all over St. Chris, all over the vet (she got a full facial assault) all over the walls, the ceiling... nothing was spared.

After that she seemed to feel much better and the vet suggested I try letting her eat a little grass. She did, happily, for just a few moments, then began to choke again. More tubes up the nose, more flushing with water. Again, we thought we had the problem solved. We took her back to her shed and tied her up so she couldn't reach anything at all to nibble on. While the vet cleaned up her gear, I got some molasses water to tempt Chanel to drink so we could make sure everything was fine. Everything wasn't fine. Her esophagus was still blocked! Again and again the tube was inserted. Poor Chanel hung her head, and water and foam and grass and blockage and blood drained everywhere. It wasn't pretty. During this time we had the difficult talk about options. We could transport her to an equine veterinary hospital and see what they could do, we could tranquilize her heavily for 24 hours and see if that level of relaxation helped in any way, or we could make the decision to humanely euthanize her. Right about that time a fresh gob of grass and other matter came flushing out. The vet believed the blockage was truly cleared, and went, again, to clean up her gear. I waited a while, then took more sweetened water out, and Chanel drank it down. Good news!

Now she is still tied in her stall, because the medication given to her makes her confused and she was attempting to eat shavings. Just what she doesn't need is any food at all going down her poor, irritated throat, let alone some pine shavings!

It was a long, difficult, emotionally exhausting morning. And though I haven't gotten the bill yet, I'm sure it was an expensive morning, too. I am so grateful that my wonderful, patient veterinarian came out and ruined her entire day off taking care of my sweet horse. I hope Chanel will recover well... I do so love that pony.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Pumpkins, ducks and preparation for fall...

Today dawned much cooler than it has been, and slightly gray and misty. This was fine by me, as the stretch of very hot weather we've been having was wearing me down. I was out the door at 6:00 AM and heard a funny noise from the hen yard. It was the missing duck, banging on the empty food pan and loudly calling for breakfast. You probably were not aware that we had a missing duck, but we did. There has actually been a few changes with the duck population of late. I wasn't sure if I should write about it, but I am going to.
Here is the story. About two years ago I had a lot of female (hen) ducks, and no males. Someone gave me a wonderful male Indian Runner duck, and I like him a lot. Meanwhile, someone else had some ducks that needed homes, and I took them in. It was two males and a female. The female died shortly after her arrival. Over time a few more hen ducks left the farm... some wandered out of the safety of the fence and vanished, a few succumbed to injuries or illness. This summer we were left with three hen ducks and three drakes. This was a bad ratio. The boys had love on their minds, and were... um, insistent. They spent the majority of every day chasing the hens and having their way with them. Roughly.To be honest, it looked and sounded a lot like gang rapes. The hens became worn down and frightened. They began to hide. One moved out to the driveway, and I began to keep food and water there for her. I worried for her safety, afraid she'd become fox supper. The other started to stay under the new little chicken coop, which only has about 5 inches of space under it. It could not have been a happy place for her. And the third, a pretty gray and white girl, just vanished. I've seen her once or twice over the past two weeks, coming from the area where the road in front of our house is, and I was worried she was hiding out off the property and would fall victim to a passing car or some predator.

So, when I found her demanding breakfast, I took a little time and just sat and watched her. She ate, and Ate and ATE. Then she waddled down to the little wading pool and drank her fill, dipping her head again and again. Finally she hopped right in and took a long, leisurely bath. When she headed back to the pasture, I waited until I thought she was about to vanish through the fence and zipped out to the front yard to see if I could find where she was going. She saw me and froze, turning her back to me and preening her feathers, acting nonchalant. Finally I had to go milk the goats, they were beginning to complain. When the duck saw me move from her field of view, she dashed into... the pumpkin plant.

This plant came up on its own, and I have happily watched it grow all summer. To my amazement the goats and horse have left it quite alone. The pumpkins are ready to pick, and I was planning to do that today. My plans changed.

It turns out the little hen was not avoiding the boy ducks, but rather, brooding a clutch of 10 or so eggs! She is inside the fence, so that offers a little bit of safety, and that makes me happy.

Meanwhile, we decided that the two rapist drakes had to go, and so they did. It took a good 48 hours but then the hiding hens came out, and began to happily be with the sweet Runner duck drake; eating, drinking, splashing in the pool and wandering around the pasture eating bugs and plants, a contented threesome. The farm is no longer filled with the frantic complaints of girl ducks, peace reigns.

It was a busy day on the peaceful farm. I started out by cleaning the goat room, getting up every last bit of bedding out and sweeping down the spider webs that appear every few days. Then Chris helped me put down heavy rubber stall mats to cover the dirt floor. These mats weigh a ton and are extremely challenging to move. But once in place, they offer good footing for the animals, insulate them from the cold ground, and make cleaning soiled bedding up much easier. Once the mats were in place, and cut to fit snugly, I layered in fresh shavings and filled the hay rack up. The goats, always nosy, explored the clean space and new flooring and then had a nice snack.

Once full they checked out the wonderful new tall wooden spool that Chris brought home from work this week. Goats love to climb up high...

There are raucous games of king of the spool. Goats play rough.

Those who are not actively playing watch with interest, and show off their new bandannas. They like new clothes as much as most woman... it makes them feel sporty.

I also cleaned out both chicken coops, and Chris broke out his wonderful power screwdriver and mounted THESE for me...

Little metal pans in both coops that hold grit in one and crushed oyster shells in the other. Grit is something chickens ingest to help them grind up food in their gizzard, and oyster shell provides the calcium needed for birds producing eggs. Those egg shells require a high calcium intake. I've wanted special dishes for these for ages, and I am SO happy to have them up and filled for the birds to partake as needed.

I carried my camera with me most of the day, recording the little ordinary things I do around here on a day "off." By supper time I was tired, but happy... a long list of "to do's" checked off my endless list. And then there is the comfy sofa and a stroll through the pictures and time to record the events of the day to share with you. From ducks to clean coops and heavy rubber mats. It was a very good day. Ziva stayed by my side throughout, and the goats enjoyed checking out my new truck when we were unloading the stall mat. I was glad I shut the doors to the cab and pocketed the keys. There is no telling what they'd do with such freedom.

Saturday, September 12, 2015


My little Silkie chicken that hatched out two chicks has been the BEST mother. She has kept her babies close to her, and in the coop. She keeps the other hens far away from them, and tucks the chicks under her warm feathers when they rest. She has shown them how to eat, how to snuggle into the nest box at night, how to scratch and peck and find water. They are strong and healthy and oh-so-cute. Today, for the first time, she took them out of the coop. I didn't see them exit the building, but did find them in the yard. Mama hen introduced them to the wonders of dirt to scratch in and clover to nibble.

The rooster was on guard, making sure the hen and babies were safe.

When the little ones became tired from their explorations, they cuddled up under their mothers warm skirts.

As dusk fell they dutifully followed her up the ramp,and into the snug coop. They tucked into the hay-filled nest box for the night. The rooster followed. I locked the doors to keep them safe. I can hardly wait till tomorrow when the babies will be out again. They are such fun to watch as they explore the big world.