Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye Fred and Ginger, Goodbye 2010

Dropping off Fred and Ginger to their new home seemed a befitting way to end the year on this farm. I was desperately sad to see them go, but it was time to move on.

Fred had worn out his welcome not only with us, but with his mother too. I had successfully separated him from the herd for three days and thought that I should give him a little time with his mama before he hit the road. But she was so done with him and his silly flirting. He chased her around the yard with that low bawling cry, tongue wagging, and blubbering to which she replied with screams interjected by headbutting. Mini Casanova was not deterred. He kept right at it and even included a pee on his own face to try and win her over. Charming. But no dice.

I felt pretty bad for poor little Fred, left with only the chickens for company. I tried giving him extra attention, as he is a sweet boy, but his love smells. Strong. And it's always punctuated with the emergence of his nine inch, pencil-thin manhood with the weird flap of skin at the tip. It's pretty scary. All alone, he cried like a baby for those three days. Seriously, it sounded as if a colicky infant had been abandoned in my backyard.

Though his cries were nothing to Lucy's wailing ever since I brought home Ethel rather than her kids. Both goats are acting weird, as if they don't know each other anymore. Ethel barely recognized me when I picked her up, but did remember how to get to her pen once she was home. She has reverted to her young, untamed, wild ways, refusing pets or snuggled. And she's such a big, fluffy snowball right now I can barely keep my hands off her. Things should get back to normal in a couple days, which I look forward to. The sexcapades and howling around here have left me with nerves of tissue paper.

Regardless, the goat project this past year has gone well. We have milk and more on the way with Ethel pregnant.

In preparation for the new year, I took a look at the projects I had set out to accomplish in 2010.

1. Finish landscaping. Done! Last year I was slipping and sliding trying to get to the animal area, but now we've got all of our retaining walls done and stairs.

2. Use less gas and electricity. Half done. We were definitely able to conserve on electricity by being more conscious about turning off lights and power strips. And we got solar panels, which was pretty darn awesome. As for the gas, our main use is the dryer, stove, and furnace, which is an ancient gravity heater that we were hoping to replace. That won't get done until next month at the earliest. Oh well. We did upgrade one of our windows to double paned, which I think has helped somewhat.

3. Install gray water system. That didn't happen.

4. Four seasons of planting. I think I got three in, though my summer and late fall plantings have been pretty disappointing. Actually, my thumb is feeling quite brown these days. It's something I need to work on.

Today I'm looking backwards, but tomorrow I will look forward and set my 2011 goals. Talk to you in the New Year! Have a happy holiday and be safe.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Have a Lardy Christmas

Happy Holidays dear readers. This is my gift to you: directions on how to render lard.

Cut up pork fat.

Put in oven at 200 degrees for a couple hours until most fat is liquid. Pour into pan.

Put in fridge until solid. Cut in chunks. Wrap in wax paper.

Store in freezer. Use to make pie crusts or tamale masa.

Merry merry!

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An Old Irish Remedy

I don't know what I would do without my Irish friend Monica. She's always there for us when we need her and today was no exception. We call them "chastity chones (Mexican word for undies)".

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Fred Has to Go

For reals. I just came to a horrible realization today as I observed Fred making obnoxious overtures towards his sister. Ginger is in heat. Her tail is flagging and her vulva is red and swollen. Fred spent half the day with his nose in her backside

 or blubbering and nibbling at her neck,

all the while moaning through his nose, low and subdued, as if he had a rag in his mouth. Fascinated by the antics, I thought Fred was just showing off his ever increasing manliness. Until, that is, I witnessed him suckling his sister's teats. Even worse, she let him and seemed to be LIKING it.

Shit, shit, fucking shit! I had completely misread the literature. The sources I read said that a doe could be bred at seven months, but that you should wait until she is at least a year to breed her. In my mind, that meant that a female wasn't capable of procreating until then. Oh no. I just read that does can reach sexually maturity by three months and that a buck can impregnate his mother as early as two months. Fuck! Fred should have been separated from everyone at the beginning of November.

I'm really worked up into a dither on this one. It is not good. Lucy went into heat last week and Fred attempted to woo her, but she was having none of it. She headbutted him until he quit the shenanigans. So I didn't worry. Bad, bad, BAD irresponsible farmer! Fred is almost as big as his mother. It's completely possible that he could have had his way with her. My anxiety is not eased by the fact that Lucy's milk supply has suffered a serious decline since estrus.

I really dropped the ball on researching keeping intact males. I never planned on having a buck around, thinking that all males at Itty Bitty would be wethered (castrated) or eaten. I am so mad at myself right now. It's like the urban farm version of MTV's "16 and Pregnant" with a bit of incest thrown in for better ratings.

I jest, but not lightly. I attempted to separate Fred from the herd, but he jumped two impenetrable (up until this point) fences to reunite with his family for nighttime snuggles. With our limited space issues, I feel like I can't exert the kind of control that I need to have over this situation. If a pregnancy comes out of all this, I will be devastated.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Rain, Rain...

Dare I say "go away"? Well, little Lucy wants to play. Look at this terribly sad face.

Poor girl has been perched on top of her milk stand for weeks. I can't blame her with the slurry of manure and hay under hoof that's as squishy as a sopping wet sponge. Doesn't smell that great either.

In October, the Disgruntled Farmhand installed a corrugated clear roof over a section of the animal pen in hopes of keeping things drier than they were last year, but with all the rain so far this season it's just not enough. So I've moved the goats to higher ground. They've been able to find a little more shelter in the half finished greenhouse/playhouse. It at least has a sizable roof, and it sure beats the bog that the poor chickens are swimming around in.

I think all the dampness has given Ginger a cough. We'll have to keep an eye on that. Ethel struggled all last winter with the hacking and wheezing. Tis the season.

While the goats are temporarily relocated, I'm going to replace the hay with bark chips and put a French drain in the animal area. Hopefully this will cut down on the swampiness around here. Anyone want to learn how to dig a French drain? You're more than welcome to join me.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Soapy Goodness

I haven't made my own soap in 15 years, but with all this goat milk coming in I thought it would be good to get back up on that horse. Goat's milk soap, with its low pH, nutrients, amino acids, and natural exfoliating capabilities, has been touted as a mild and moisturizing skin product for centuries. I wanted in on some of that action! Beats store bought for sure.

This is my own concoction based on a recipe from Alabama Soapworks. I made sure that I used the correct amount of lye for a mild soap using this nifty calculator from Majestic Mountain Sage. I know what you're thinking: "Lye! But won't that burn your eyeballs out?" Only if you don't wear goggles while making it. Soap making is a chemical reaction between sodium hydroxide and fats, creating a hard substance that lathers up real nice and makes you feel squeaky clean. The caustic nature of the lye is transformed into something completely benign. Our great grandmothers were making soap from wood ash and animal fats, which doesn't sound nearly as hazardous as its chemical appellation.

With this round of sudsing, I went with vegetable oils, like olive, palm, and coconut, rather than animal fats. I spiced the mix with lemon verbena essential oil from local producer, Bonny Doon Farm. In the midst of integrating the lye with the oils, I had a moment of panic that saponification was not happening. My mixture resisted thickening. Not good. It's true, you can totally fuck up making soap. Maybe your oils stay separated, or your fats curdle, or your brew remains thin and soupy rather than thick and stewy. Regardless, botching a batch of soap is some serious dough down the drain, especially if you are using organics or specialty items like Shea butter or vitamin E oil. I solved my problem with my slightly dated bible on the topic, Soap by Ann Bramson. All I needed to do was heat the pot back up a bit and get the chemical reaction to activate. Worked like a charm.

These bars will need a month to cure, but when they are done I'll post them in my Etsy shop for purchasing. I think I will name this one Lucy's Luscious Milk Soap.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Birthday Eggs

After over two months of being completely bereft of eggs, a couple girls started laying today. And it's my birthday. What a great present! Though I suspect that the light I put in the coop last week helped.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Tale of Two Farms

This past fall I visited my new urban farming friend, Esperanza, at her pad in the Grand Lake neighborhood of Oakland. She has a blog, Pluck and Feather, and is currently working on a website called Farm Food Connect, an urban farm directory. It's kind of like the Yellow Pages of the movement. She's still trying to find backers for the project through Kickstarter, so if you can throw down a little for this great resource I'm sure it would be greatly appreciated.

As for her farm, what a gorgeous plot!

Every inch seemed to be packed with green things growing.

And what envy I had of her Day of the Dead marigolds!

It doesn't look it, but it really is in the city. See.

And here Esperanza is talking to a maintenance guy over the fence. When you farm in the city, you're always rubbing elbows with people in the neighborhood.

Aside from lush green veggie beds, Esperanza is currently raising bees, chickens, turkeys, and rabbits for meat. This is Anabelle, her breeding doe who isn't known to be very friendly. Though, once I presented myself to her in rabbit language, nose to nose, we were instant buddies. Sometimes you just have to know how to talk to the bunnies.

Here's one of the lovely laying hens.

The turkey poults were quite a scrawny sight and had no indication of being ready for the winter holidays. That's because Esperanza raises her turkeys for the spring holidays, which is traditional in Mexican culture.

Speaking of culture, I think Esperanza and I spent most of our time discussing genealogy, Mexican heritage (my hubby's ancestors were from Sonora and Durango), and second generation immigrants rather than urban farming. It was a lovely visit topped off with some homemade scones, lemon curd, and proper chai. And not that Oregon Chai crap, which I don't even know how they can market as chai because it doesn't taste anything like it's supposed to. Esperanza's husband is Indian so she knows how to make the real deal. I went home with a full belly and a delicious, if not raging, caffeine high.

My next stop was to Kitty Sharkey's Oakland farm, Havenscourt Homestead. Wow, I have to admit that I am pretty envious of the amount of space she has for her goats. Kitty has four Nigerian Dwarfs, three sweet girls and one wether. As well as producing milk, she is training them to be therapy animals. Look at this pretty lady. Isn't she a beaut?

Her goats have some pretty adorable quirks. Nali, the herd queen, likes to rub up against your butt when you're laying in the hammock.

Did you notice her jewelry (wattles)?

Kitty's goats are a dream on the milk stand and she insisted that I give it a go with Nali so that I could know what it was like to milk a goat without taking a beating (Kitty is well aware of my milking issues as she was the first on the scene to help with Lucy's bad behaviors). And what a dream she was to squeeze! So easy that even my seven year old could do it like a pro in less than five minutes.

Kitty was also an excellent instructor.

Goats aren't the only creatures roaming around Havenscourt. There are a couple beehives on the roof of the garage,

a whole mess of chickens - this is one of the bantams,

some quail, soon-to-be meat rabbits, and painfully cute ducklings.

And even then she still has room for a veggie garden.


Kitty loaned me her bander to castrate Fred, but I guess we won't be needing that. If Fred could see the thick green rubber bands that could have potentially been wrapped around his manhood until it shriveled up into a floppy, leathery sack, I'm sure he would breath a sigh of relief. Kitty assures me it's not that bad.

You can find Kitty at Novella Carpenter's pop up farm stand selling her goat cheeses. Get there early as she sells out quick.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Guest Blog: Cold Turkey! We've Left the Farm!

Top of another bright, fresh, San Franciscan morning to you all, I have to admit, we are in withdrawal… having left Heidi’s farm.  My wee son Hugh (7 yr old) asked, as I tugged on his ankles, to get him out of his hot bed and into the crisp 7 am air, Are we going to milk Lucy? ..and was very disappointed to know that he was headed for school and no farm chores this am.  Poor wee innocent, divilin.

In truth, it has been a wonderful week at the farm.  Declan (the experienced, Monaghan farmer!!) did come to milk Lucy on the sixth morning, and was put to instant shame by his offspring!  No Dad, it’s this way. Well the two men, left to their own smarts (as the stand-in farmeress took photographic record)..

had a great time, with their manly teamwork, getting Lucy to “let down” and give us our daily quota, of a jar-load of the best, creamy milk.   She did her usual wee low, flinging, “get-yer-hands-off-my-tits” kicks, but we are used to the highland jigs, which resound so well on the wooden base (and not to mention the roving, farmers hands!).  If only my sprightly, 86 year old Irish step dancing mother, was here to join in the rhythm of this morning, she’d add some amazing footwork to this pulsing, milking ritual.  Contented with the satisfaction that we were ready for a grand cup of Barry’s tea with decent milk, the hens were let out and the bleating kids raced to the their mother.  The forceful, repeated dunting of her deflated udder seems to give them that early morning comfort they had being waiting for, but lads, it gives me the heebee-geebees!  I’m so glad I’m not a Mama goat and have finished with breast feeding! Yeeeouch…get off-of-a-me!

Visitors came and went over the Thanksgiving holiday. It was good craic watching each of the characters come n’ go; some without encouragement, gave their opinion on how they would remodel the whole place!, others just soaked it all up and wanted to run out and buy themselves a bunny or a hen.

Well, ahem,.... speaking of hens.. I guess it’s time to confess the fatal mystery of one of the hens- (It’s fortunate I can’t match plumage and name). Well, Day 4, the “5” hens were let out as usual in the a.m. and we hung out about the farm till early afternoon. On our return at 5ish, there, lying DEAD as a dodo, in front of the coop, eye poked out, and somewhat defeathered, was a hen!  God save us from all harm!.. What on earth happened?. I did as much detective work as I could, but have come up with nothing conclusive, a freak accident? And then the animals in the pen did what animals do!

Anyway, post Thanksgiving my husband did get to prove some of his farming talents as he briskly plucked and gutted the hen, as effortlessly as if he was pulling a pint of Guinness, as he chatted with the relatives/customers who had stopped by. 

Lucy’s cheese mixed with herbs from Heidi’s garden were always a nice treat with visitors. Hugh and his friends had super fun running up and down the blocks with Mr. Tink, and watching the never-ending antics between sleek housecat Luna and one crazed, dog.  

Gosh, we miss ALL of the animals, I’m sniffing my woolen cuffs to get even the slightest whiff of a goat. I do believe we are to celebrate Miss hen’s life by bringing our two families together and feasting on her. Thank God I'm alive!   Slán (goodbye), and as they say in Roscommon ”that a crow may never pick yer stack!” or “that you may live till the skin of a gooseberry makes a nightcap for you”.


Friday, November 26, 2010

A Local Celebration

Happy Thanksgiving lovely readers! We are celebrating this holiday with my parents who reside in Hastings, Nebraska, a fairly small town of less than 30,000. They still live in the same house I grew up in, built by both my mother and father.

When I return to this neck of the woods, I dread the food. There are more fast food restaurants here than parks, which might explain why a good percentage of my parents' neighbors depend on convenience chairs to get around. Scary. I was bound and determined to find fresh food in this state for once and thus began my search for goods a solid six weeks in advance.

Local Harvest was absolutely indispensable. If you don't know about this site, you should. It can locate a sustainable farm, farmers market, or natural foods store anywhere in the U.S. It's through them that I got hooked up with the Nebraska Food Cooperative, who in turn provided me with a local heritage turkey, organic veggies, and other sustainably grown sundries that we would use for our Thanksgiving feast. To top it off, I ordered everything online and it was delivered straight to my parents' front door. We didn't even need to go grocery shopping before the big day. How awesome is that?

Ironically, in the heart of America's farmland, it's not that easy to find fresh, local, sustainable food. Big Ag and junk food crammed grocery shelves have left small family farms with a mere pittance share of the market. This land, nostalgically remembered for adorable livestock grazing the electric green back 40 and returning at night to a quaint brick red barn standing amongst waving wheat fields, is in reality a heartbreak. The soil suffers from severe nutrient deficiency and erosion under intensive chemical farming practices and monocrops. Farmers end up beholden to the bank, the seed companies, and government subsidies. Small farmers, who don't qualify for the subsidies, find themselves working full-time off farm jobs in order to make ends meet. It's a sad situation all around.

Maybe it's the romantic in me, pining for "the old ways", that makes me go out of my way and plunk down a few more dollars to purchase from the little guy who cares about the health of the land regardless of financial loss. I also just think it's the right thing to do.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fred Is a Man

And he's going to stay that way. The family jewels, as you can see in all their glory, shall remain intact.

Fred's new owners have decided that he is a real stud and thus will be pimping him out to the goat ladies who might need a bit of courting. All I can say is that he will be very good at his new career if the amount of humping he performs on a daily basis is any indication of  future job success (I will hopefully have video for you all next week).  I'm actually a bit concerned with all the mating behavior as male goats can become fertile as early as seven weeks. This isn't as much a concern for Ginger - she won't reach sexual maturity until seven months - but for the two adults in the herd. Thankfully, Fred has shown no interest in humping his mother and so far he isn't big enough to tackle Ethel. But he is growing fast. A couple weeks ago, both Lucy and Ethel were in heat and Fred spent half the day sniffing Ethel's backside and then throwing his head in the air with lips curled back, baring teeth, and sucking air in and out at a metered pace. At first I though he was doing his best imitation of Mister Ed until I realized that this is normal behavior for a male to determine whether or not a doe is in heat. God, he is such a man!

These aren't the only sexually dimorphic traits he has been acquiring. He's developing quite a bucky smell that you can't easily wash off your hands. And check out the start of his beard.

Ten weeks old and he has facial hair! They grow up so fast, don't they? And he headbutts anything. A fist.

The camera.

His sister's head.

No matter. It's all good. Despite all his macho manliness, he is still a baby who whines like a toddler for a little suckle on his mama's teat and then happily curls up for a nap with the family.

In other goat news, Ethel has been sent off to her farm of origin to be bred to an odd looking fellow named Flap Jack. He has the longest, shaggiest black hair I have ever seen on a buck and horns that swirl up and around in a pompadour. She should end up with some interesting looking offspring.

As many loyal readers will have noticed, we are on vacation in Nebraska for the Thanksgiving holiday while our super fabulous goat doula friend Monica and her family will be looking after the brood. Both her and her husband, Declan, grew up on farms in Ireland. Can't wait to hear about Declan's attempt to milk the goat sans milking machine. Should be a gas.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Guest Blog : A wee Irish lass is farm sittin' this week.

Top of the morning everyone,

Luna (black cat) has crept a tad closer on the bed, -within purrfect patting reach, to start our day with a gentle purr. No husband, no child, only animals..I’m liking this wordless space!..well....for now at leaast..
Fearing the Irish tea on this wee farm, might just not meet my regular fix at 7:30 am, I take on milking Lucy cold turkey!  Wellies, raincoat, rubs, tubing, jars, feed, wipes, “white” tray..I feel like I’m off to perform some grand operation.  Mind you, I need some milk for my cereal, so here we go, ….spread em!! Well, whaddya know?   A piece of _ _ _ _!  CAKE!.. seriously, she’s a pet.  The kids (ungulated ones!) got to have their cereal and milk thereafter, so one big happy farm thus far. And you know what? The tea is grand, some good brown bread with homemade marmalade, and she even has Kerrygold Irish butter.  No eggs, come on now girls.. we'll have to have a wee cluck later, girl-2-girl. This house is amazing, the supplies are endless in a household of glass labeled jars, from grains to goodies!. Hmmmm. I should weigh in and out of here!

A great day was had overall, Mr. Tink mind you, did a tinkle of another kind with excitement when I came back to the hse. at one point... Mr. Tink! Control your excitement. Bunny plenty hydrated as that is the job of wee Hugh Peter after school…so much so was the interest that she got a few nostril-loads by surprise, I didn’t know bunnies made such a high-pitched wee sneeze!..  Bless you..and all about you, Good night from itty bitty.  BTW, me husband is coming over early in the am to milk Lucy (he’s not to know about the “equipment”). Let’s see how the v. experienced Monaghan farmer get’s on!  Maybe he’s back at the hse. and getting some practice in tonight! 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fred Attacks

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Honoring Our Ancestors

Fall is an important time of year around here as we are busy with harvesting, canning, buttoning up for the winter rains, and planting fall crops.It is also a time of year filled with various celebrations and holidays that have great significance to us. As lovers of imagination and creativity, we of course adore Halloween, but it is also a time that we pay tribute to our ancestors and to our loved ones who have passed in the last year by celebrating Dia de los Muertos.

Although my husband's family is Mexican, they no longer celebrate the Day of the Dead. This tradition probably died out in his family as they attempted to assimilate into U.S. culture. My mother-in-law was born in this country, but she was raised speaking Spanish. The 1950s California education system was not kind to children who continued to speak their mother tongue and she was often beaten for communicating in her native language. In order to survive, assimilation was of the utmost importance.

We reclaimed this colorful celebration for the benefit of our daughter, as we think it is a wonderful way to open up dialogue about death. Though my husband and I are self proclaimed atheists, choosing not to believe in a supreme deity or deities, we do not lack a sense of spirituality or cultivation of the inner life of the self as one might assume. The fact of death is something we would prefer our child to come to terms with rather than fear. Reflecting on this is part of what you might call our spiritual practice. And what better time to contemplate this rite of passage, but in the season when crops wither back into the belly of their mother, trees shed signs of life, and the glow of summer leaves us for the dark. Here are some photos of our festivities.

This is our altar to our ancestors and loved ones who have passed. 

Ute and I made Pan de Muerto for the first time and it turned out great. I wanted to bake Frida Kahlo's version, but it required a dozen eggs! With only Sweet Pea laying, that wasn't going to happen.On another note, while watching a video on the Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, we saw a quote graffiti-ed on a wall "We eat from the earth and so in return, it eats us." Something to chew on with the yummy bread.

Every year, Ute and I get all gussied up for San Francisco's Day of the Dead procession. We love the ceremony, something that is often missing for us non church-goers.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

She's a Layin'

Sweet Pea is laying eggs again! And just in time to make Pan de Muerto for the Day of the Dead (we'd hate to disappoint the ancestors). She's survived Marek's, having her toe torn off (by moi), being squished under a chicken run and still she comes through her molt faster than any of the others. She's my rock star chicken.