Friday, May 27, 2011

More Pests!

Having animals, any kind of animals, comes with a pretty steep learning curve. Most people know about pests that come with cats or dogs, and are familiar with fleas, or at most worms. When you have larger animals there are larger pests involved. Enter rats. I see now why people have barn cats that they feed very little and expect them to hunt for the remainder of their food. Sadly our cats won't take on anything larger than a shrew.
When we first got goats we put their food in the garage thinking it would be safe. The rats found it right away. It took me a week to find the rats. They were coming in from multiple areas including under the garage door through a small gap, and actually digging in under cement for at least twenty feet just to come up through the one foot square dirt hole where the plumbing came in. I had no idea they were so smart! Having had a pet rat at one time I should have seen it coming.
Just over a week ago we moved some hens and a rooster we had separated for breeding purposes back into the fold. The feeder was still in the pen for a few days without a rooster to protect it and the rats found it. T saw the rats running along the back fence to eat and then run back. We thought it was a rat that we had seen sporadically throughout the winter. Today I saw one in the garage eating the chick food when I opened the door fast. I set a trap then went to milk the goats. While milking I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. There was a younger rat looking at me from the doorway. It took off when it saw me.
This meant we had a problem. Next it was to the garage for the pellet gun. I wish there was a humane way to deal with this pest, but I haven't found one. I sat by the back of the chicken run and waited. The rat kept looking out at me and the goats and ducking back into the hole under the fence before I could get a shot off. One thing I have learned is that rats learn fast. No way was I going to take that shot unless I had a clear shot. While waiting there was a snap from down in the goat barn. The barn is actually the half underground cement cellar of a former chicken coop. Anything that is down there can't get out except through a three foot tall window, or through the door. So of course I investigated. The trap was set off, but it was empty. I closed the door and secured the hole under it that they like to use with a brick and wet hay. While I was at it there was a repeating grunting sound from under the hay pallet where the trap had been. It seems that a scarred rat grunts! After looking for any other areas it could run and blocking them with wet hay I lifted the pallet slowly.
This is where it gets crazy. Think clowns and a circus. Think Three Stooges. That rat shot out right past me. I grabbed my weapon of choice; a shovel that happened to be near, and pursued. It went straight under a pallet I thought was blocked. I pulled that pallet up and set it against a wall and off we went again. It jumped the two foot wall between stalls in one leap and went back to the hay pallet only to see that I had lifted it already. Then it made for the door and stanchion. Running after it I came as it realized that there was no escape, so it reversed course. I was standing on plywood and as I tried to reverse too my feet went out from under me. I saw my rubber boots hit the water bucket that was just filled this morning. As I swore loudly the bucket did a full flip in the air and landed on it's bottom in between my legs! Of course half the water landed between my legs. Well, actually in my lap! As my head nearly connected with the ground I looked left to see the rat scurry past my face within inches. At this point my lap was soaking wet, I could feel the damp goat crap water from the floor soaking into my tidy whities, and the rat was untouched.
It was time to outsmart it. I set a piece of the pallet from the hay out from the wall at the bottom, grabbed the pellet gun, turned off the safety and went to scare it out again. I found it under the stanchion where there was a little hay hiding. I managed to get what I thought was a perfect shot off into it's gut. It ran. And ran. And ran. Fifteen minutes it ran. And I kept rooting it out. Finally it stopped in my spot behind the pallet. Back there I had a clear shot from against the wall. Perfect shot. I took it. Right between the eyes. Finally. This is how it's supposed to be. Fast.
There are more, but they can eat my grain for a few more days.

- P

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Here is a short list of things that make me squeamish: earwigs, leeches, cockroaches and maggots.
Nothing will  make me scream like a girl like finding an earwig crawling on the flowers I just picked. Most of the other things on my list I have not seen in person. Except maggots, and encounters with them are few and far between.  I'll get back to this in a moment.

I have spent the last two weeks trying to make 2 types of cheeses I have not made before. One is a moldy chevre called valencay and the other is gruyere (which requires "washing" with brine every two days). Both seemed fairly straightforward until I put them in the "cheese cave" which started out as a cooler and switched a mini fridge set to 52 degrees.  Because the mini fridge has a mini freezer in it, the humidity is an issue. The humidity in the cooler wasn't so bad, but bugs kept flying in. So, I moved them to the mini fridge but I could not keep the humidity down. I found the ice tray was still in the mini freezer, which obviously wasn't helping! So I took it out and wiped out all the water. But my gruyere was still sticky/slimy. So I did tons of research online and find that as I suspected, the humidity was probably too high but it doesn't seem that all is lost. The valencay grew some lovely white fluffy mold, as it was supposed to, but then the cheese inside started shrinking. So after the requisite 2 weeks, I take the valencay out of the cheese cave to wrap it up for storing in the house fridge.

This brings us back to the maggots. I look closely and that is exactly what I see.  I very nearly screamed and then I started to cry. All that work and milk wasted. Maggots. There is NO way I am going to try and save the cheese after finding maggots!!! The only positive thing I can find is that the mold on the outside was exactly the right texture. So I check the gruyere and I see only 2 maggots. But they are still MAGGOTS! ON MY CHEESE!  So I curse and cry and take all that hard work out to the compost pile. P comforts me the best he can and the next day takes my spoiled cheeses to the chickens. At least they'll enjoy it. I think for now I'll stick to the easy ones - chevre, feta, cheddar.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Dreaming of land....

When we get old, we plan to live in the city. But for now we're dreaming of land and all the possibilities. At last count, we have 15 chicks, in addition to our 12 laying hens. So when they grow up that will be WAY to many chickens for the area we have for them. We live on 4.5 acres, which was completely available to us when we moved in. But then the guy renting the shop decided to live there. And next the landlord decided to build a "shop" way out back.  So we basically have an acre for our goats, chickens, gardens and kids.

Chickens are rather destructive. If you let them out to free range, they scratch up the gardens and eat the seedlings. So for now they have to stay in their chicken run. The goats I can take on walks on the property, but after an 8 hour day there are kids to feed and get in bed so the walking doesn't happen as often as it should. There is so much for them to forage right now! If only we could fence off the back half of the property we would save oodles on feed. Hay is not cheap. Now that we only have two goats, it is more reasonable and a bale of hay, which costs $13+, will last at least a week. But I'm dreaming of them being able to feed on fresh grass all spring and summer and then feed hay in the winter. Would make goat keeping much more cost effective. Same with the chickens, however there are a few people who buy eggs from us so it pays for about 3/4 of their feed - a 50 lb bag of layer pellets is going for around $18 right now. So I have to sell 6 dozen eggs to pay for their feed. Comes out ok during the laying months but once October hits and they stop laying as much, more of our hard earned money goes for feed.

It is not cheaper to keep animals, but I feel so much better about it than buying from a grocery chain. Even though we do not feed organic food to them, we know where the animals have been and how they have been treated. That is worth the extra money.

Someday we will have the land to be able to provide more of our own food to them and more room to roam. And as a result they will be able to provide us with cheaper food for us in the form of milk, eggs and meat (though I will never be able to eat goat, I could get a couple of sheep for that purpose).


Thursday, May 19, 2011

High heels and midnight gardening

The sun was out yesterday - for the 2nd day in a row! This is quite a feat since Western Washington has had a record cold, wet spring. As soon as I got home I threw my heels and slacks in the closet and put on my (fake) crocs and work pants and started planting. Finished the corn, got the tomatoes in and planted the hanging baskets. Finished my chores before 9pm (early) and snuggled into bed in my pjs to watch Grey's Anatomy (finally).  At 10:30pm, I realized that I had not put the row cover over the tomatoes. You see, tomatoes need 50 degree temps at night, and even though it's mid-May, temps are still in the low to mid 40's at night. Crap. I was preparing myself to change back into work clothes and find a flashlight, when P, the wonderful man that he is, texted me that he would do it after work (which means midnight). So I avoided the midnight gardening. Whew. Though I wish I'd been awake to snap a picture of him in his shirt and tie gardening in the dark.

But while on the topic of forgetfulness, I forgot to let the chickens out after I did my milking this morning. I was ready to go to work, complete with my capris and cute high heels. So what do I do? I go let the chickens out while wearing  my heels. This involves me opening up the coop and carefully tip toeing through to open the door to their run, as well as trying to avoid the chickens who are flying off their perches thinking I'm going to let them out into MY yard - I managed to avoid the flying hens but may have a feather or two in my hair, I haven't had time to check yet. You see, when you are as busy as I am, corners must be cut. I have, after all, been known to feed baby goats while wearing a dress. But I have yet to be found midnight gardening in high heels....but given enough time I'm sure it will happen.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

After work plans go sideways....

My plan for the day....get up at 6am. Leave for work at 6:55am. Pick up kids at grandparents at 5pm. Stay for dinner. Go home. Plant corn which I pre-sprouted and is now 2 inches tall (should have been done last weekend but the rain got in the way). Get kids in bed. Milk goat. Clean up kitchen. Sit down and watch Grey's Anatomy on hulu.

Actual day...went as planned except that I stopped at home before picking up kids to check on my doe whose udder, it was reported to me by P, was very full. I find her laying in the barn with goo coming out of her hind end, which means she is going to give birth soon. Call grandparents and have them get kids here asap so they can watch. Wait in barn as goat takes her own sweet time having her baby. Kids get bored and wander off. Goat finally has baby. We wait for her to have more. None show. Grandparents bring dinner over since we missed having dinner at their house. Get kids fed. 30 minutes past their bedtime notice they need to fold and put their laundry away. Kids put away laundry and finally get in bed an hour after their bedtime. Milk goat. Doe still has only one baby - how is that possible when she's as big as a house? Give up on doe. Get half the corn planted.  Clean up half of kitchen because there is only so much room in a dishwasher. Think about sitting down then realize I have to brine two different kinds of cheeses, make bread and pasteurize milk. Look at the's 30 minutes past my bedtime. Decide to ask P to put the chickens away when he gets home because I am too tired and to go outside again. Instead of watching Grey's Anatomy, I'm blogging.

Darn goat made my relaxing evening turn into complete and utter chaos. But her baby is so cute it's worth it.



Who are we? We are a couple experiencing the modern renaissance. 30-something adults finding that balance between modern day conveniences and that sensibility that our grandparents grew up surrounded by. Interests include, but are in no way limited to: cheese making, goat milking, soap making, chickens, beekeeping, brewing beer, and whatever else strikes our fancy at the time.

Not to mention that we both work full-time (or more) corporate jobs and between the two of us have three kids. Our household includes two dairy goats, 20+ chickens, two rabbits (whose purpose we are unsure of), two cats (whose purpose seems to be to make it impossible to roll over in bed at night), and a few fish. All this only seven minutes from a city with a population of 100,000+.