Sunday, July 22, 2012


Whenever I hear the term swarm it strikes fear in me, but now only for a second. Swarms of bees are actually just the way that bee hives reproduce. The queen lays a ton of eggs every day, and some of the bees are in charge of their care. These bees keep the eggs warm, feed them when they hatch, and generally do any tasks required to care for the young. They also will turn one of those eggs into a queen if theirs leaves. Some bees also forage. When the hive wants to reproduce the queen will take a large percentage of bees (mostly foragers) and leave to find a new home. First they gorge themselves on honey. That honey may be the only thing they eat in days. Then the group flies out with the queen to find a new home. They all settle somewhere like a tree branch and send out scouts to look for a new home. This is fascinating. Look up 'Honeybee Democracy' on YouTube or the book with that title if how they accomplish this interests you. Utterly fascinating.

What does all this have to do with an average person in real life? Well, you may see this phenominmom in real life if you are lucky. With more people getting into the hobby there are more swarms.

Things you really should know about swarms:

1 - Because they are so full of honey and have no home to protect the bees are generally very docile.

2 - Like you and I bees become more 'testy' as they become hungrier. Considering that they may go days without a meal, it's
Important to stay away until you know it's safe.

3 - A swarm can be on a branch or similar place for days before finding a suitable place to live.

4 - At first you will see a few bees, and then you will see thousands as they descend to cluster together. Whatever you are doing, stop, and enjoy something you may never see again. This is a good time to search your county (via google) for beekeepers in your area.

5 - It takes anywhere from hours to 3 days to find that perfect new home and the bees will stay clustered in the mean time.

6 - Call a beekeeper early on. It takes time to get ready and get our gear ready. Call me if you can't find a number. I'll point you in the right direction.

Here is a picture of the monster size swarm I was lucky enough to capture a few days ago.

Feel free to ask any questions.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Current happenings on the farm

After being on vacation for the last week of June, I have finally recovered enough to post. Nothing really monumental is happening, but here goes....

First news is....I bought a new goat. Her name is Daisy and she is a Boer/Saanen cross. Now you might think "don't they already have enough goats?" and the answer is YES. However....we determined that Dashka (the Lamancha/Nubian cross with attitude) gives bad milk. She has poisoned her milk with her bad attitude. At first I thought it was colostrum making it taste bad but a month later it tasted nasty still. Then I thought maybe it was all the new spring grass. I tried feeding her supplemental hay and extra grain. That did nothing for the taste. Well just after getting back from vacation, I began milking Jilly-Boo, my Oberhasli yearling. One taste of her milk made me realize that Dashka just has bad milk. Since Jill's mom Rosie didn't get knocked up this year and isn't in milk, that put me in the market for a new doe. The reasons I chose Daisy amongst all the does on craigslist are:
1. She came from a farm that regularly tests for CAE.
2. She was bottle fed and friendly.
3. She comes from a line of ribbon winning Saanens.
4. She had kids in April so she is in milk.
5. My son tasted her milk before we bought her and declared it "the best milk in the world".
Things I've learned since bringing her home:
1. Boer's are meat goats and very strong and Daisy got that trait.
2. Her milk is very high in butterfat. I have an inch of cream on her milk within a week, unlike the others that it takes two weeks.
3. She is very easy to milk - her orifice size (the size of the hole the milk comes out) is great and she milks out easily and quickly.
4. She thinks she's a person.
5. She is very vocal when she sees us because she thinks she's a person.
6. She uses her Boer strength to push out the stall door when I open it because she thinks she's a person.
7. It hurts when she steps on your foot because she's so heavy.

Other things that are happening....
The garden has beets, snap peas, carrots and swiss chard ready for harvest. The lettuce is starting to bolt so it's getting bitter. The ying/yang beans are begining to get little tiny beans on them and the Blue Wonder pole beans are climbing ever upwards. The broccoli and cauliflower decided to "flower" too young which makes them competely useless. Can't have a nice big head of cauliflower on a tiny little body. So those two crops are a bust this year, sadly. The raspberries are ripening and the tayberry and marionberry aren't far behind.

We got the turkeys out of the brooder box finally and into an outdoor pen. They look a little confused since it's the first time they've ever been outside.

A relative came who lives down the road came over and mowed our fields. I am hopeful that we will have nice pasture going into the fall instead of stands of 8 foot tall dead grass. Hooray!

Things I am behind on...
Weeding the flower beds and garden. Cleaning the kitchen. Folding the laundry. Sweeping the floors. Anyone know a free housecleaner? The kids just don't do a throrough job.  Maybe if I paid them.....


Monday, June 18, 2012

Neutering goats and sheep (aka how to make a sheep faint)

We have been putting it off and putting it off....neutering our bucklings and ram lamb. The most common method is to use a tool to put a super tight and thick rubber band around the top of the scrotum which then causes it to rot and fall off. Not real pleasant for the kid. Takes quite a while. The new "humane method" is to use a tool often called the Emasculatome or Burdizzo or Ritchey Nipper:
This wicked looking tool crushes the spermatic cord without any incisions, bloodshed or rotting.

So last night P and I took away from the bucklings and the ram lamb the ability to be fathers. Yes, I realize how ironic it is that it was Father's Day. And poor P had to be a part of it. He had a great day otherwise so hopefully he won't hold it against me.

First thing we learned, it is very hard to hold onto a 2 month old buckling. They are very strong. And you have to hold them so the scrotum is at just the right angle. Think of being at the gynecologists office and it will give you an idea. Since P said there was NO WAY IN HELL he was going to take away their manhood, he got the job of holding them in position, which was fine because they were too strong for me.

So I get the tool in place and clamp it down and it locks in place so there is no way that buckling can get out of its grip. I count to 15 and release. He was pissed, as well he should be. Wasn't too happy when I repeated it on the other side. I took a look ad my work and it seemed to be successful. Think of crimping a pretty much left a neat and tidy depression. No blood, no bruising, no cuts. I did the second buckling but he only had one testicle so he got lucky and only had one side done. Poor guys were walking pretty gingerly and didn't want to come near me but they will get over it. I'd rather have them suffer for a few hours than have them suffer for weeks with the banding system.

P was looking a little pale and he closed his eyes during the process. I tried to be understanding and laughed in my head and not out loud since I could not have done it without his help.

So I said to P "while we are at it, should we do the ram lamb so he doesn't knock up his sister or mother?" He went in and wrestled the ram lamb out. This guy is 3 months old and MUCH stronger than the bucklings (well I guess they are wethers now). We ended up having to tie his feet together. It turns out that sheep have wooly scrotums, so I had to search through the wool to find the right spot. Meanwhile he is trying to get away and I am trying to be fast because I don't want P to get stabbed in the back with his horns. I finally find what I am looking for and the damn spermatic cord keeps slipping out and I cannot get it in the right position to clamp. I am starting to get sweaty now and the lamb's kicking has flung mud onto my face and hair (and I know that said mud is mostly poop but I am trying not to think about that). I manage to get it in position and warn P that I'm going to clamp. I clamp and the lamb struggles as I start my countdown. And then he is still.  Oh crap, did I kill him? I look down and see his head flopped back. I say to P "I think he passed out!"  And sure enough, that lamb was out cold. I removed the clamp. He didn't wake up. P and I are laughing so hard that I can barely catch my breath. All I can think is that the shock of being held down and the pain of the clamping made him just need to escape from reality. He is pretty wild and does not get (or want) to be petted so being handled by people was probably just more than he could deal with.  I finally stop laughing long enough that I can get the clamp in place to do the other side (and yes it was as much of a challenge as the other side was). Well doing the other side woke that lamb right up and he was not a happy camper. But the hard part was done. All I had to do was release the clamp and untie him and let him go. Seemed no worse for the wear after passing out, although he did yell at us for a while.

In all, I think the first attempt at neuteringmale goats/sheep was a success. Now I just have to observe them to make sure the testicles start shrinking. If not, we have to do it again and that will be another story since they will be bigger and stronger. Keeping my fingers crossed that I did it right the first time.

And every time I think of how that lamb passed out, it will make me giggle. The joys of farm life....


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"Juneuary" redux???

I am going to complain about the weather. It's not even breaking 60 degrees this week. The veggie garden does not like this!!!!! The garden was thirsty, yes, but enough already. My peas finally have blooms on them but they need sun desperately to GROW.
That being said, there are a couple of roma tomatoes already on one of the plants. So once that sun gets here I expect to be eating tomatoes out of the garden by 4th of July. Ok, maybe that's too ambitious. I'd actually just be happy if the tomato plants don't succumb to late blight this year. I chose to buy locally this year and found a bunch of  good sized heirloom tomato plants for only $1. So if it is a bad tomato year and my 15 or so plants don't do well, I am only out $20 (before I scored on the cheap ones I bought a few more expensive ones).

I am focusing on being a glass half full kind of person so the positives of the rain are....Hmmm. I can't really think of any. At least it is LESS rain that it was a few months ago so my fields have dried out, meaning I don't have to wear boots to go put the chickens away and risk breaking my leg in the mud (the neighbor across the street did just that earlier this year when she was slogging through mud to put her ducks away).
Oh wait! I thought of a positive! My duck pond is full of water again making the ducks really happy. And ducks swimming and preening on a pond make me happy. As do ducks that come running to me when I call them. And ducks that eat bread out of my hand. But I digress....

They say this flashback to the "Juneuarys" of years past will be shorter lived and we should start pulling out of it soon. My patience is wearing thin because I really don't need a reminder of how terrible spring/summer was the last two years.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A great life with one bad day

How did I spend the last day of my 4-day Memorial Day weekend? I butchered 4 chickens and a turkey. P did the killing because I'm just not able to bring myself to do that yet, but I pretty much did all the rest. It was supposed to be a joint effort. He brought over the headless chickens, I dunked them in scalding water and defeathered them, then the plan was to skin and gut them together. P was having trouble with his first chicken (I was still defeathering a turkey outside so wasn't there to help quite yet) and when I went in to get started on mine, he was getting increasingly frustrated. Then he tells me he's feeling queasy so he leaves the room for a bit. Next thing I know, he is going to the house to check on the kiddo. The man has great timing because he came back hours later, just as I was finishing the last one.

So back to the is gross at first, but it really is neat seeing all the stuff that a chicken is made of. The most fascinating thing are the eggs. You can see every egg the chicken will ever lay. They go from the size of the tip of a pen, up to normal egg sized. I found a shelled egg in the turkey and one hen that, if they hadn't had such a rotten day, would have been laid that day.  The hard part of gutting a chicken is trying not to perforate the bowel. If it is perforated, it is a gross stinky mess, although it can be washed out. The first chicken I nicked but got it out before it became a problem. The next two I managed to keep intact, but the 4th one it pretty much went everywhere. I cannot even tell you how gross it is.  I had to stop mid-stream and rinse the chicken out before continuing on. I skinned all of the chickens because plucking is a pain (it starts out easily enough because a little hot water makes the feathers come right out) since the pin feathers and guard hairs don't come out easily.

It is messy business and after all that hard work, the chickens looked so scrawny. They were a couple years old and they were free range, so I am sure they are quite tough. I am planning on making coq au vin, which is traditionally made from tough old roosters. The turkey, on the other hand was just a year old and had lots of meat on her. I swear, even gutted, she weighed 30 lbs. P came back just in time to rinse the chickens and put them in the freezer.  The turkey required both of us to into a large garbage bag and into the freezer. She is so big that our family can eat off of her for a week, but since it is the first time we have butchered a turkey, we are hesitant to share because we are worried she might be tough or taste bad. But I supposed we can always order pizza if the turkey is a flop. So I guess I'd better get all our families ready for a turkey (or pizza) feed.

After spending two hours on five birds, my back and arms were killing me. I strongly believe that the people who do this for a living should make a lot more money.

Many people think it is horrible that we would butcher our own chickens. But really, I know where that chicken has been, what it's eaten, how it's can that be bad? They have a great life until that one really bad day.....


Monday, April 16, 2012

Garden progress

Back in February, we started clearing space for our garden. It turns out the perfect place for the garden was also the area previous owners filled with gravel. In some places the gravel is tiny and you can dig through it to the soil below. Some places are just pure soil while others have large gravel that cannot be dug through. Needless to say, creating our 1800 square foot garden required scraping off the grass and rock and then bringing in 20+ yards of soil.  After seeing the mess the scraping created, I thought it would never look like the nice garden I'd envisioned.
Tractor ruts, piles of sod, clay, gravel and a lovely pile of garden soil. How in the world would I ever get this to look like a garden:?

Fast forward a month and there is improvement. The lovely soil has been raked into place and the piles of clay, sod and gravel are mostly gone. That was some back breaking work that I tackled mostly on my own since P was busy with other projects (not to mention that most of his time at home is either sleeping in the daylight or it's dark out so he deals with indoor projects). Using the trailer attached to our lawn tractor, I drove loads of sod over to the septic tank that we'd had to unearth earlier this year. The sod made for instant grass over the top of the existing mud so I felt like there was immediate progress in that area of the yard. The gravel I scooped into wheelbarrows and put in the muddy areas of the driveway. The clay was a different story. Not so good for planting and it was super heavy so I couldn't really take it anywhere with the lawn tractor. So I ended up throwing it by shovelfuls and handfuls in some cases, over the fence into the low spot in the sheep field. Let me tell you, my back and arms were sore for the many days it took to deplete that pile.

And finally, it is beginning to look like a garden!!!!

I've spent hours raking and hoeing rows for planting. Normally I wouldn't mound my rows, but it turns out that the garden is now lower than the surrounding area so water pools in it. Literally, there was a lake on the end closest in the photo above. Some of my garlic actually drowned. To combat that, I mounded my rows and during the next rain I saw that it was working as I'd hoped it would - the rows were happily above the water. And now, after some lovely warm weather, there are lettuces, brassicas, beets, spinach and peas sprouting. Mother Nature has been very kind lately and the warm sunny days have been on the weekends and the rain arrives during the week. So this weekend I did some more planting in the sun and Monday morning the rain returned to water my seeds. I may have actually gotten a little sunburn!

This was one of the hardest jobs I've ever done (P got the relatively easy job of using the backhoe to create the space). But the joy I feel at looking out my kitchen window at this gigantic garden that I put together mostly by hand is so worth the work. I am looking forward to that first salad that I get out of my first garden at my new house on my own land.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring has sprung

I had to go on a trip to Portland, OR for work. The weather was lousy. Rained the entire 3 hour drive down and most of the 3 hour drive back. Actually, that is putting it POURED.

When I returned, the weather wasn't too bad. The sun was peeking out so I did some work in the garden. I heard what I thought was my youngest goat in the barn. Didn't think much of it. For some reason I went into the barn when I was done in the garden to check on things. I didn't have any need to go it. When I looked in the sheep stall, here is what I found....

Our ewe had two lambs!

One boy and one girl. They were all dried off and walking and nursing. She had them sometime between noon and 5pm. We thought she was pregnant (when we bought her they said she was probably due in January, but that was not the case). She was looking fairly wide but I was having trouble determining if that was wool or pregnancy. One of the kids said "I know wool and I know pregnancy and that is pregnancy." She was sure right!

The older offspring of the sheep is (was) a ram of around a year old. He was none too pleased that his parents were busy with two new siblings and spent much of his time trying to ram them into the wall. Keep in mind that Jacob's sheep have a pretty good set of horns on the, so you can understand that this was not a good thing. I put the young ram in with the goats and neither of them was happy about the situation but I knew the goats could hold their own against him. Then I called the butcher and made an appointment. Took him in a week later and should soon have lamb to put in my freezer.

This is our first time raising sheep. I did a lot of research and found that Jacob's sheep are very hardy and lamb easily.  Turns out to be very true. The lambs are very strong and healthy and the ewe is no worse for the experience. Having only experienced goats kidding, I am quite impressed by the ease of raising sheep. All I have had to do so far is dip their umbilical cords in iodine the first day. At not even two weeks old, they are already eating grass beside their parents all day long. Unlike goats, they get down to business right away. I rarely see them playing. They spend their days eating grass, nursing and napping.

If I needed to simplify my life, I would think about raising sheep and not goats. But goats are much friendlier and we love the milk they provide so I don't see changing over to sheep only any time soon.

I am excited for spring and the new life it brings. Up goats in a week or so!


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Great way to start the day

The sunrises from our land are amazing. To the east I can see the tops of the Cascade Mountains peeking over the hills. And when conditions are right, we get sunrises like this one:

Being able to stand outside in the freezing cold 27 degree morning with a view like this is something I always dreamed of. MY barn. MY land. MY sunrise.

What a beautiful start to the day.

But alas, I am brought back to reality. The septic system seems to be backing up. Stinky sewage is bubbling up near the tank. Today is the day the septic guy comes out to tell us what needs to be done and how much it will cost. The tank was pumped and the system inspected when I before the house in August. It all checked out so I went ahead with the purchase. But that was during the dry season. All is not well now. I had been hoping to have enough $ to put in a wood or gas burning fireplace insert, but really it is cosmetic, whereas a functioning septic system is NOT cosmetic and has to be addressed now.

Later on, when I am feeling overwhelmed by the price and scope of the septic repair, I am going to remember this morning....