Friday, February 27, 2015

Milking Matilda

Matilda's milk supply has been extremely variable lately.  Sometimes there's only a quart, sometimes three quarts, sometimes more than a gallon, and we have to quickly drink the extra if we haven't brought enough jars.  I didn't used to like the warm milk, but I do now.  Something about chilling the milk changes it forever.

I think this has to do with how soon the calf has nursed before milking time.  She has also had a touch of mastitis last week, which is never usually a problem with her.  I gave her iodine, which seemed to help, but I think it is because she won't let down enough of her milk, but saves it back for her baby.  The calf, who we have named Sappho, is growing, but she can't drink ALL that, Matilda!

The big news is that Isla wasn't in heat last week at all - and there are two possibilities:   1) She is still infertile, and that was only a freakish occurrence
2) She is pregnant - bred for November.  Of course we hope for the second one. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

In the Garden: Planting Potatoes and Hidden Gold

This week we finally got around to planting 15 lbs of potatoes.  A little late this year, but we did eventually get it done.  We got three varieties this year - Pontiac, Kennebec, and La Soda.  We didn't till the soil this year (tiller has a flat tire, among other problems), but ran the chickens over where the rye was planted to try to work the soil a bit.  We're cultivating the top left side of the garden for the first time, and it's more sand than soil at this point.  I went through (with gloves) and pulled out the blackberries, some of which had enormous roots.  Then we used a shovel to hack through the tough turf of dormant broomsedge roots and carefully tuck the potato chunks into the ground.  It was a lot of work close to the ground, and we went home that night smelling of earth and milk.  Once the potatoes sprout, I will use some organic fertilizer and the Desert Dynamin clay because the soil is so poor, and heavily mulch them with the cow's trampled hay.

Last year I made the usual "layer cake" permaculture beds to plant potatoes in, but pests like earwigs and massive pill bugs ate holes in them.  This year I am growing all my root crops - yuca and sweet potatoes, too - with just a big dollop of mulch.

I also planted some turmeric.  I have grown it before in our yard in town, and I love having fresh turmeric to add to the winter ferments, for the flavor and the immune-supporting benefits.  The color of the inside of the roots (or are they technically modified stems, like onions and ginger?) is striking.

There have been many beautiful salads eaten this week - I'm so glad to have so much lettuce growing now - really all because of Forage Farm's lettuce trials.  I never used to like eating big green salads this time of year when the weather can be chilly, but I have really enjoyed it this year.  I'm planning a big lettuce bed next year - and hopefully I can save seed from the varieties I'm already growing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


I feel like our home schooling is changing....

I've been reading and thinking a lot about it.  I've been reading a lot about unschooling lately.  I also had an interesting conversation with a family friend who home schooled her two children.  They are both now studying engineering at UF, and are doing very well.

We have, for the past three years, done Waldorf-inspired homeschooling based on the Christopherous curriculum.  I was mostly driven to use it by Clothilde arriving to our family.  I like some things about Waldorf.  I like the use of stories, the nature, the celebrations of the seasons.  I like the handwork and art.  Some of the things felt natural to me - such as drawing pictures with writing practice.

(When I was in first grade, I began to draw pictures for words I couldn't spell on my assignments.  My teacher quickly put a stop to that.  She said she wanted me to learn to spell the words instead of drawing them.  I asked what I should do if I couldn't spell it, she said, "Sound it out."  I asked if I could still draw the pictures as long as I also tried to write the word, and she said no.  I asked why.  I thought the pictures were pretty.  I thought my teacher would enjoy them.  She said, very sharply, "Because this isn't art class."  I never, for so long, understood the sharpness in her voice when she said this.  A few years ago, I talked with a Kindergarten teacher.  She said the children these days shocked her at how disrespectful they were.  An example - a little boy was not coloring in the black-and-white outline picture as he had been told to do.  She asked him why, and he said he didn't feel like coloring it in.  He didn't like the picture.  So then I understood - my teacher thought I was "disrespectful" because I wasn't doing her assignment as she wanted me to.  It was different.  It was creative.  It wasn't supposed to be creative or different.  It was supposed to look like everyone else's.  I think the teachers who think the most, feel the most, of the students' supposed "disrespect" are probably the guiltiest of disrespecting those children, their time, their education, their inherent intelligence and creativity.)

As I have learned more about Waldorf education and Anthroposophy, I find conflicts of philosophy.  A lot of it is based on the Middle Eastern myth of Adam and Eve (and the other stories in Genesis).  While I was just delving into that part of it and trying to maintain an open mind, I also picked up an amazing book on human evolution - Descent of Woman by Elaine Morgan.  It was a life-changing moment, the moment I picked it up and began reading.  It begins with the Adam and Eve myth, and how the untruth of that myth has shaped our ideas of human evolution, despite there being a good pile of solid evidence to the contrary.  Myths, while they contain beautiful images and metaphorical truths, should not be confused with the Truth, the hard truth, of Nature.  But Rudolf's Steiner's teachings are based on the myth of Adam and Eve (and other myths) as though it is hard, true, real truth.

I have found that I have a problem with that.  Because I see the folly and damage, in our culture, and in much of the philosophies of our major religions - and even of modern spirituality, of ignoring Truth, of ignoring Nature - like denying Climate Change, or our culture's negative impact.  Like Moses's laws to not plant two different kinds of plants in the same field.  That kind of forbidden agriculture could save the world.  Like in The Secret - "Just don't think negative thoughts and it will all go away and become positive and happy." No.  It doesn't just go away.  It gets worse.  And worse. The observable Truth of nature is important - nay, vital.

 And not only that, I have noticed an inflexibility in myself with such a system (the German influence?).  While talking with my friend about how she homeschooled her now grown children, I felt my world open up a little.  I began to soften my dogmatic educational ideas.

 So we are in a little transition of sorts.  There are many ways to learn, and my two older children have vastly different ways of thinking and learning.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Piglet Kiss


 The piglets seem twice the size they were last week.  They grow so fast!  They are still cute as can be.  It's the way their little ears flap when they run.  If they sense any sort of danger, they scatter, running incredibly fast, and hide.

One evening as we were just about to shut the gate and head home, we heard a terrible squealing.  It sounded like one of the piglets was being squashed or eaten by a coyote.  Ethan ran over to see what the matter was.

The matter was that mama Star was trying to eat, and the piglets wanted to nurse.  The way her belly curves, some of her nipples hang down far enough, but most of them don't, so half the piglets were nursing, and the unlucky half who couldn't were squealing their heads off.

During the recent cold spell, we gave Star extra hay.  It was in the twenties when Ethan went out that morning.  All the piglets were okay, and the big piglets (Star's litter from last year) were all snuggled up with Bee in a hole they made, keeping warm together.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Olustee 2015

Last weekend found us at the Olustee battlefield for the annual reenactment.  We've gone most years, but we missed last year which was the 150th anniversary of the battle.  Ethan was a major civil war buff since he was a kid, and he has an 1861 reproduction black powder muzzle loader he fires off for 4th of July and New Year's.  Back in his college days, he used to borrow a uniform/costume from a friend and participate some of the reenactments around Florida.  He still does every now and then, although it has been more challenging since getting dairy animals and having Clothilde.  Mirin first went to Olustee when he was a year old, but he slept through most of the battle, cannons and all.

This year we only attended.  It was more than a mile walk from where we had to park, and we could have opted for a bus shuttle, but watching all the Average Americans lumbering towards the entrance inspired us to just strap Clothilde into the Ergo and not complain.  (If the 500-lb guy in a massive camo jacket and orange shorts eating Cheetoes and drinking soda along the way could do it, I should be able to, too, right? right?).  Unfortunately only Ethan had good walking shoes, so there were some blisters to be had.

I love the way the reenactments really bring history to life - some of the participants get really in "character" and it's very interesting.  Every year is a little bit different.  The horses charge out, the black powder guns start firing, and then the cannons start booming.  Mirin has been interested in history this year, and is already looking forward to when he will be old enough to participate - only in about six years.

While she really enjoyed the horses, Clothilde was deathly afraid of the cannons (but at least she seems to have lost her golf cart phobia - she can even say "golf cart" although it isn't particularly articulate), so we went off and meandered around and only got to see the clouds of smoke through the trees, until the portapotty-suctioning truck drove us further away.

There was wonderful people-watching to be had.  I saw an old lady that made me think Clothilde might be like one day.  She had a big puff of very white hair (like Clothilde), and she was driving her electric wheelchair super fast while her middle-aged daughter ran beside to keep up.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Nature Finds: Bagworm and Wingless Moth

The insect life has mostly been hunkering down and hiding through the cold spells (which have been very long this year), but the slightly warming weather has brought a few cool nature finds out of the woodworks.

The first photo was easy - it's a bagworm.  I love the way they make their cocoons from sticks and things.  This one looks like a strange little log cabin!

The second photo was unusual - we thought maybe some sort of beetle larva.  My dad, the entomologist, is who we go to for unknown nature ID, says it is a wingless moth.  Some moths have wingless females.  They are usually smaller, this was an unusually large lady.  He wasn't sure exactly which one it was, and he couldn't identify it from the photo.  We were pleased - first time finding a wingless moth!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Goat Gossip

(M'am, could you pick the perpetrator out of this line up, please?)

Ethan says it was probably April on the far right - not for any particular reason, other than he says her Shrek ears haunt his dreams.  She did turn out to look a little like someone did cruel genetic experiments on her (although I think she's cute in the same way French bulldogs are cute), and I guess that IS kind of what happened to her.  

The buck was a crazy blend of Nubian, African Pygmy, and La Mancha goats that happened when his dad snuck into the doe pen at our friend's farm.  When we saw his little Shrek ears and waddles, we knew the kids would turn out a little weird-looking.  But we didn't quite expect April.  She got more of the African Pygmy genetics I think.  Twilight Sparkle got the tiny ears, too, but she also has long, magic unicorn eyelashes that kind of make up for it.

There was a wooden pallet leaning up against the fence in the goat's paddock that was knocked down this week, and it's had the strangest effect on the goats.  Even though it is only four inches tall, any amount of height has a bad effect on a goat.  It seems to make them extra saucy.

While I was milking Matilda one day, they were so funny.  I think someone was in heat.  Possibly all of them.  Well, except for Stripey, our wether, although who knows, maybe he was in heat, too.  They were running and jumping up on the pallet and head-butting any other goats around.  Twilight Sparkle missed her footing on the pallet plank and had a very ungraceful stumble that she tried to shake off, but it didn't quite work.

Cricket did a fancy leap off of the pallet, ran at the pile of hay, turned and was about to twist around and rear up with her ears raised at Stripey, who was just standing there...only she slipped on the hay and hit the ground chin-first in the most undignified way and with a resounding thwop.

Who knew that a pallet would make the goats behave so idiotically?

Another bit of gossip:  I think Explorer, the bull, has fallen in love with Isla.  They are always grooming each other soppily.  I know pigs will fall in love, I didn't know cows did, too!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

In the Garden: Savoy Cabbage and Kohlrabi

It's been so beautiful - except for Tuesday, of course.  That was an awfully dreary day, although I'm sure the rye loved it.  Hopefully the Snow Queen's blossoms didn't freeze in the cold spell last night.  The garden is put to bed under the cold-protection again.

The savoy cabbage was ready - it turned out not to be as sweet and flavorful as the red cabbage was, but it made a very nice head.  I still have five more plants - I have to plant more next season!  I tell myself this now when the weather is cool, but planting more will involved toiling in the August sun to build garden beds - I'll have to see if I really like cabbage that much then.

There's been much work on the summer garden.  All the solanaceous beds are built (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, ground cherries).  That was nine long beds in all.  Now I'm working on the more forgiving number of squash, cucumber, and melon beds.  There's plenty of hay and manure to pick up from around where the cows' round bales were.

I pulled a couple of kohlrabi's for dinner the other night, not realizing what enormous vegetables they are (the bulbs looked so small!).  I've never grown them before.  Last year a fellow gardening friend of mine went on and on about how easy they are to grow, cook, pickle.  I cooked them up in some butter.  They made a massive pot of greens, and I liked the flavor (my family doesn't get very excited about vegetables) - sort of a strong broccoli taste.  They also add lovely color to the winter garden, so I'll definitely be growing them again next fall. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Yarn along: Scandinavian-style Colorwork Sweater


The modified tunic/sweater with Scandinavian-style color patterns is coming along (my, that doesn't sound very nice, does it?  I'll have to think of a different name for this - Still Light Sweater or something....)

I finished the yoke and am working on the body now.  I'm knitting plain grey until the bottom, so all I have to worry about are the occasional increases, since I'm skipping the pockets and pleats this time.  Everyone is very happy about this, because now I can read and knit.

We are still working our way through Ben Hewitt's book Homegrown.  It's about unschooling and their life style.  I've already read the whole thing, of course, but now I am reading it aloud so Ethan can enjoy it, too.  It's not as practical as The Teenage Liberation Handbook, but it is still very inspiring and funny to read.  Mirin is really enjoying hearing about other boys who carve bows and build forts and generally run around in the woods and help look after goats.  It makes us feel not so weird, which is a good thing.  And it has inspired deeper thinking about how we home school as well.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Nursing Cows

On Friday Matilda was not to be seen when I was getting her barley and hay ready to milk her.  I thought it was odd, because usually she is hanging around the gate, practically tapping her hooves with impatience.  So I knew something was up when I had to walk up there and find her.

She was off by herself, just standing there, moping a little.  I said, "Are you okay, Matilda?  Ready to come down now?"  She just blinked her big, brown cow eyes at me, lifted her tail, and let loose a slurry of diarrhea.

It wasn't too bad - I mean, I've seen worse.  But it was bad because then I knew something was wrong.  Images of digging a huge cow-grave and bottle feeding her calf for two months flashed through my head.  But now she started walking forward and came slowly down to the milking area.

She tried dispassionately to eat, licking a little barley and ignoring the hay.  Now I knew it was serious.  I checked each teat, but no mastitis.  She had less milk than usual, and her rumen bulge on her left side looked hollow and empty.  I tried to coax her to have some extra lick or apple cider vinegar, but she flatly refused.  She was standing funny, as if her hips hurt.  I ran my hands along her neck and back, and I could feel that she felt hot, without even taking her temperature.

There were several things it might be - a common virus, parasites, or a toxic plant.  I worried about the latter, as we lost poor Mairie two years ago after she ate something toxic and died.  I wanted her to eat something - the poor think looked so suddenly thin.  So I put her on the rye in the garden.  She limped along, munching.  So she wasn't that sick yet.  She would still eat rye.  Her coat looked good still, and it has been cold and dry, not really the time for parasites yet.  And the fever...

Now I noticed bits of bloody mucus on her tail - oh my gods, I thought.  Is this enterotoxemia?  Is she shedding bits of intestine?  By the time I had walked her back up to her paddock through the garden, she pooped again - no blood.  I tried to remember how long it had been since she calved...just about ten days - so I figured it was probably just the 10-day ickies.  She sat moping around the hay bale, looking miserable.

We went home when it was dark, and I called my friend Karen who has had cows for about seven years longer than we have.  She suggested Arscenticum Album homeopathic, because it sounded like her throat was sore, plus she had scouring.  It was going to get cold that night, but not as cold as they had thought it would get.  I worried all night, and we went out early the next day.  I covered my eyes when we drove up...I couldn't look.  She wasn't there, anyway.

Ethan got out first and went out to find her.  She was standing with Geranium and Chestnut and the calves, who were chasing each other through the stands of oak trees.  By the saucy flick of her tail and the gleam in her eye, I could tell she was better.  She practically ran over to be let into the rye again, where she munched her way down to the milking area.  Then she demanded to be milked, so I got everything ready right away, much to the disappointment and dismay of the goats, who are usually first.

She still refused the hay, so I gave her an extra scoop of barley with dolomite, copper, and vitamin C, which she enjoyed, and forced some Arsenticum down her, which she wasn't very excited about.  Whew - BIG relief.  I had also mixed up some immune herbs with honey, which she completely refused.  I thought since she was well enough to refuse them that strongly, she probably didn't need them anyway.

So it was perhaps a virus?  We were just getting well from a virus that made our backs hurt, our throats sore, and there was also a day of stomach distress - almost the same symptoms.  Could we have made her sick?  I guess it's possible.  

Monday, February 16, 2015

Valentine's Day Hearts (Refined Sugar-Free/Grain-Free)

This year was the first Valentine's day we have celebrated in a LONG time, although goodness knows I've tried!   I always have pink, red and white felt and construction paper on hand, and plans for heart-shaped desserts, but we always end up being sick. 

It all started five years ago when we got the Norovirus for Valentine's Day.  We still talk about it.  A week of being struck down in bed by severe illness, only moving to go do the chores (yes, we still had to do chores!  And that was back when we were still lugging the Hell-on-Little-Wheels chicken coop around the pastures).

I like Valentine's Day.  I think it is a wonderful opportunity to think about the people you love and appreciate them.  Ethan was a real stick-in-the-mud about holidays when I met him, but I daresay he's come around a bit.  Not that he really participates much, but at least he enjoys them more.  This is one holiday that we don't celebrate the old fun as running through the streets naked with strips of bloody goat hide may have been for the Romans celebrating Lupercalia, we stuck with the cute pink and white desserts and heart-shaped cards again this year.

Refined Sugar-Free/Grain-Free/Chocolate-Free Valentine's Day Hearts

For the meringue:

6 eggs, separated

5 Tablespoons raw honey

A pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon chocolate extract

1/2 cup carob

1.  Line a cookie sheet (with sides) with buttered parchment paper and pre-heat oven to 375 F.

2.  In a bowl beat together egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of honey, vanilla, chocolate extract, carob, and salt until smooth.

3. In another bowl, beat egg whites with the remaining 2 tablespoons of honey until very stiff and glossy.  Fold into egg yolk mixture.

4. Pour onto cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, or until puffy and set.  Set aside to cool.

For the filling:

 2 cups of whipping cream

1 package of freeze-dried strawberries, crushed or powdered in a food processor

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 tablespoons raw honey

Whip cream with vanilla and honey.  Divide whipped cream into two bowls.  In one, carefully mix in the crushed freeze-dried strawberries.

To Assemble:

Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut heart shapes out of the meringue.  Make "sandwiches" by carefully spreading whipped cream on with the back of a spoon and topping with another heart shape.

Friday, February 13, 2015


Piggies are growing - the weather has turned cold, but I think not as cold as was predicted.  The garden is covered, anyway, and some hay was brought up to the piglet nest, just in case.  Matilda's milk that was at first so abundant is waning as the calf grows.  I can hardly tell her apart from Geranium's calf, Lichen.  She has a white dot on her butt, and that is the only difference.  So strange that the 3/4 Jersey and 3/4 Devon look so much alike.

They are all growing.  Nutty is fat as butter, and we still haven't weaned him. He is huge, it looks like it hurts his neck to lean down and nurse now, but he still does.  Soon.  I haven't had time to tame Chestnut this week.  That's the only way we'll ever get milk out of her again.  We tried weaning him a few weeks ago.  They were only separated by a fence, could still see each other, smell each other.  When we got there, Chestnut was foaming at the mouth and hoarsely mooing.  She kicked the crap out of me and Ethan.  We both had bruises.  So I was trying to get her into a routine of coming down to be milked, but then we were sick and it was just too much.

Ethan is still sick this week, and the children were exhausted after the whirlwind weekend.  We didn't do anything this week.  Just rested.  No home school.  Only one outing to the park with a friend.  It was so laid-back they were bored.  On Monday I let them sit around and watch movies for the first time in a long time, just so they would rest.  Otherwise they wouldn't have - they would just fight and keep running around.  I don't do that very often, but it did seem to work.  They have bounced back fairly well - except maybe not Rose, who we forgot in the car yesterday when we stopped at the store.

(We didn't exactly forget her - the childproof lock was on for Clothilde, and we started walking to the store before she got out.  But apparently that counts as forgetting).

Thursday, February 12, 2015

In the Garden: Cauliflower, Onions, and Carrots

 The cauliflower is ready!  A major gardening victory - I LOVE cauliflower, but I have been unsuccessful growing it until this year!  I have a few more plants, but I am definitely going to plant a whole lot more next year!


I pulled the first planting of carrots.  It's my fault they aren't nicer - over planting them with radishes might work in some gardens, but certainly not in mine!  It's not entirely why they are so small and stunted, however.  They were the Oxheart carrots that stay small and blocky.  I thought they might do better here, but I think I will go back to the St. Valery next year. To be fair, they turned out amazingly sweet and flavorful.

The onions have begun bulbing!  I've gotten lots of wonderful green onion to add to pesto and soups so far, but I pulled some of the larger bulbs to make onion soup.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Yarn Along: Colorwork

(this was me trying to pick out the difference between light gray and off-white, which was surprisingly difficult in our poorly-lit house)

So...this year, I've decided my kids have enough adorable woolens.  They hardly even wear them!  I've spent the past two months freezing my feet off and trying to convince them to wear something other than tiny shorts and bathing suits when I can see my breath inside our uninsulated, igloo-like block house.

This year, I need some knitting.  Desperately.  The last time I knit myself a sweater I could barely read knitting lingo, and I did the shaping wrong.

After much deliberation, I decided to start off with a modified version of the Still Light Tunic.  It is one of the warmest things I have, but I wish I had had the patience to knit long sleeves on it, and I hate the way the pockets hang in the front and make me look like I'm expecting baby #4 unless I have my hands in them (this is probably my fault and not the pattern).  And even though the tiny yarn/tiny needles tends to annoy me, I love the graceful neckline and the fine, warm feel of the tunic.

So I have cast-on for it again, intending to skip the pockets and some of the shaping, and finish the sleeves to be full-length.  And color-work.  I've had it in my mind to try out Fair Isle, even just for the experience.  A friend of mine brought over a beautiful pair of wrist-warmers with a simple-but-beautiful colorwork pattern she created that cemented my decision to try it out.  Last week I sat around with graph paper and pencil in hand, scribbling down different patterns that came into my head and ignoring everyone, much to their annoyance.  (It's been awhile since I've had some knitting to focus on).

A month ago (dirty confession) I bought Rose a gorgeous knitted dress from Hanna Andersson (gasp! I don't usually support the clothing industry like that, but it was on super sale).  The colors are creamy white, cool gray, and berry red, knitted in an elaborate Scandinavian-style pattern.  It, of course, is machine knitted with an interesting double-layered knit stitch that makes the long tails of the pattern not stick out.  Interesting, but unattainable for this sweater.  So I am using my patterns with their color scheme - and I am very happy with how it is turning out.  It's so fun and challenging to add the colorwork aspect to it, and it feels very creative, as I am never sure how it will fit together on the yoke with new stitches being added every second round.

Monday, February 9, 2015


Star had her second litter of piglets over the weekend!  This time we could tell that she was getting close - her udders started to swell, and she looked well, pregnant.  (still no piglets from Bee - we are trying to figure out why).

She had TEN piglets!  That's a lot of newborn babies to look after!  She is an excellent mother, and made the sweetest little nest in the fallen oak leaves.  When she lays down with them, she fluffs the nest up.  Because there are so many piglets, this time not everyone can find a nipple as easily as when there were only five, and their frustrated squealing distresses her a little.  It's funny how whining is a cross-species phenomenon.  There are so many of them, it's hard for her to shift around so they can all get nipple coverage. 

We separated Bee and Trespassers is in his own fence, so she has some space with her babies.  They are all doing great

Friday, February 6, 2015

Homeschool: Zoology

We started a Zoology block for 4th grade last week.  It's supposed to be a Steiner thing about how mice represent intellect and are fearful, lions are emotional, cows are physical and digestive, but people are superior and have all those things.  I couldn't stand to teach something that, as a Darwinist, strikes me as untrue on so many levels, so we are kind of unschooling a bit here.  Mirin is picking an animal every week to study, preferably animals here that we can observe in person rather than just reading about and drawing.  Last week it was horses.

We brought him to the horse farm where we got manure.  The lady was glad to see us, but slightly dismayed that we were not getting manure (we are trying to get away from using horse manure because of the toxic wormer Ivomectin used).  However, she was glad to have us out, even if we were just watching the horses.  We did come in handy, because shortly there was some excitement when one of the horses that has been suffering from constipation started rolling on the ground and acting weird.  The horse-farm lady got him up and had him keep walking while she was on the phone with a vet and the owner of the horse.

Meanwhile, one of the other horses got out and was ravaging the expensive alfalfa hay.  She was still very occupied with the other horse, so we shooed it away and locked it into another stall.  She was very grateful for our help, and Ethan helped keep the horse walking while she had to run and get medicine for it.  It made for an exciting and realistic horse-observing experience.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

In the Garden: Broccoli and Cabages

 It's been a good week in the garden.  I got some new veggies finally other than kale, collards, radishes, lettuce and turnips.  I made an amazing cole slaw salad with the red cabbage.  It think it was because it was so fresh, but it seemed sweeter and crispier than any cabbage I've had before.

 The broccoli is sending out side shoots, and the cold weather has made it very sweet.  I wish I had planted a whole long row of it, but alas, I only have four plants that survived the rabbits.  There are more plants that are still in just leaves stage, but I'm not sure if it will have enough time before summer.

 The rabbits got a lot of my savoy cabbage, but the few that are left are starting to head.  I replanted a bunch back in November, so later on I hope we'll have more.  This is the first year it's survived long enough to make heads!

This has been my favorite lettuce this year - Shu Tu Mai, or Swordleaf Lettuce.  It has a sweet, delicious flavor and has grown prolifically.  We've gotten a lot of nice salads out of the garden this year.  I'm already scheming out a whole big bed for lettuce next fall.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Liming the Pastures

We just put 2000 lbs of lime per acre on the pastures.  That will be our big fertility investment this year.  For the past three years, we have invested quite a bit of money on organic fertilizer, but we have noticed that the pastures have become more and more acidic, favoring blackberries and broomsedge rather than palatable grass.

Last fall I did an experiment and heavily limed a small area, careful to remember exactly where I had so I could make a comparison.  I didn't even have to.  Everything grew so incredibly tall and vigorously on the limed spot.  Reading an issue of Stockman Grassfarmer, I discovered that lime is really one of the most important soil amendments.  Acid soil prevents plants from taking up other nutrients.  A cow's rumen will be the same pH as the soil she grazes from.  A long-time dairy farmer friend said the biggest mistake they made in the beginning was to not just pour tons of lime onto their pastures.  So we are trying lots of lime this year; we'll see what happens.

It all went well, except the blockheads we got the lime from gave us twice as much as we really wanted, and didn't tell us until it was already on.  We hired our neighbor to spread it with his tractor.  All in all, it was about as much for us to lime the whole place with 2000 lbs per acre as it was for me to toss on 400 lbs per acre on the first few lines, so I'm pleased with it.  And my arm doesn't hurt.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Herbal and Nutritional Fertility Treatment For Cows

Our Jersey cow, Isla, has fertility issues.   Still not milking at age four, she has been AI'd numerous times and was the only cow that Explorer's father, Richard, didn't manage to breed.  She has spent almost an entire year with Explorer, who has successfully impregnated all the other mamas. Our AI guy told us she must be infertile, and suggested a hormonal fertility treatment that is routinely used for dairy and beef cattle to make it easy to AI massive amounts of cows on the same day.

But at his next visit when we thought Isla was in heat, he changed his mind.  She was acting like a crazy beast.  We couldn't get her to come close to the headgate.  She was charging around, kicking her heels and throwing her horns around.  The AI guy didn't want to get anywhere near her.  He mentioned that the fertility treatment involved getting her to behave several times, and hinted strongly at putting her in the freezer.

Isla was the first calf born on our farm....she is beautiful and very healthy other than her apparent infertility.  We love her, but of course we can't have a pet COW, and she is very fat ("grass fed and finished").  Last fall Ethan started calling her unfavorable names, like Beefla and Beef Island.  We decided that this winter she'll be the next beef.

 The more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be too bad.  (She would be such a great milk cow!).  I've read that infertility in animals can be two things - copper deficiency or vitamin A deficiency.  I can look at her and see she's got plenty of copper (copper deficient animals will get a curl at the end of their hair, making their coat look rough, due to being unable to make a certain copper-dependant protein.  They will also have a light back and be very thin and unthrifty in the winter, and parasite prone in the summer.  Her and her five chins are certainly not unthrifty).  Since she was a calf she has suffered occasionally from a drippy eye, and even had conjunctivitis several times.  That made me think she probably needed more vitamin A.

 Fortunately, a few months ago my mom bought a huge bottle of fermented animal-grade cod liver oil, hoping to use it for herself because it was relatively cheap.  It smelled so incredibly foul she gave it to me for the animals.  So I have a great natural vitamin A supplement on hand now.  I recalled a lecture by a natural vet I heard a few years ago that mentioned using red clover tincture and other herbs to cure infertility in cattle. Red clover is also used by people with apparent success.  So I started mixing her up an herbal "fertility treatment" with red clover, red raspberry, fenugreek, maca, licorice, cod liver oil, barley and molasses.

The first time Isla smelled it, the reek of the cod liver oil made her jump back.  But eventually the molasses won out, and she eagerly comes over to eat it now.  So that part was easy.  And then -

On Friday Ethan noticed Isla was standing around kind of funny -

It soon became apparent why:
(caution, slightly graphic pictures.  I culled out the most appalling, but I thought I should still have a warning.  My kids sure aren't going to need a "Birds and the Bees" talk!)

Isla was in heat!

I think this was the first time she's properly been in heat.  It was hard to tell, because she is a very coquettish cow, and she gets very overexcited about the other cows being in heat.  I think often we mistakenly thought she was the one when it was someone else she was reacting to.  This is the first time we've actually seen a bull breed her.  When she was in with Richard we saw him try a few times to mount, but never really got down to business or pursued her much.

Of course this doesn't mean it will take, but at least it's an encouraging start.  We'll see if she cycles again in three weeks.  Meanwhile, I'm keeping up her Herbal Fertility Treatment.  I still have plenty of herbs.  The whole thing cost under $50 total, I can use whatever herbs she doesn't (although Ethan says he doesn't want me to touch the stuff, seeing how effective it was) and we never had to get her in the headgate.  If it doesn't work in the end, it will at least make the beef taste better.

Isla's Daily Herbal Fertility Treatment

2 large handfuls of dried red raspberry leaf

2 large handfuls of dried red clover blossoms

1/4 cup of ground fenugreek seeds

1/4 cup of shredded licorice root

1/4 cup of ground maca root

1 1/2 cups of steam rolled barley

1-2 Tablespoons of cod liver oil

2-4 Tablespoons of molasses

Stuff the red raspberry and clover blossoms into a quart mason jar.  Boil water and pour just enough to soak into the herbs.  Cap and leave to cool on the counter for half the day.  Meanwhile - mix the other herbs with the barley.  Stir in the cod liver oil and mix well.  Drizzle in the molasses and stir until the barley is coated.  Then mix in the soaked herbs.

Monday, February 2, 2015


Last night we had a wonderful group of friends out to celebrate Imbolc (Candlemas) with us, a time to reflect on how we have used our gifts and resources, and find what really is needed for this new year.  It was a great opportunity to set off the huge pile of weeds and old pallets that had accumulated out of the garden and orchard.  Having learned the hard way from the kids' birthday party last year, when we had a huge, 30-foot out-of-control blaze setting fire to nearby hay bales while everyone was arriving, we lit it off well in advance this time.  (and we remembered to hook up the hose, too.  Big improvements.)

Only one other kid showed up, which was a big disappointment to my children, everyone else we know with kids either struck down by illness or attending the Medieval Fair's last day.  With our friends we offered up our wishes and blessed our land and animals.

In proper respect for fertility, we also managed to sqeeze in loading up a big trailer load of hay and manure off of the pastures for the garden.