Archive for February, 2012

Baby Goat Drama

Missy is a deadbeat mom.  We should have called Social Services on her as soon as she left those two poor wet kids in a snowbank, but we wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt.  We tried to teach her a better way.  Showed her how to nurse.  It looked like things were turning a corner – we saw her nursing a kid, and figured things were going to be alright.  We kept an eye on the situation, but tried not to interfere.
Then, at chores tonight, Hubby found the baby boy, laid out in an awkward position in the straw, screaming.  He was fine this morning, and nothing out of the ordinary in the afternoon, but by 7 tonight, he was very nearly dead.  Hubby brought him in, and I was sure he was a goner – he couldn’t stand or even hold his head up properly, and wouldn’t take a bottle or anything.  Best we could figure, Missy had been feeding the girl twin, but not the boy, and he collapsed from malnourishment and hypothermia.  The last time we forced Missy to feed him was last night; 24 hours is a long time for a baby to go without food when it’s -20 out…


I was certain we were going to lose him, but felt like we should at least try something.  We ran out to the barn and tried to milk Saffron, but she was dry – her teats were still wet from her own kid nursing.  Uh oh.  We got Missy up on the stand, and hubby held her while I tried to milk – she’s never been milked before, and has the teeniest teats, but we did get a couple of ounces.  Back to the house, but the boy wouldn’t suck.  He just flopped in my arms, not even struggling.


I wrapped him in a towel and tucked him under my sweater, then asked my forum friends for advice.  Warm him up and feed him, was the consensus.  So I grabbed an afghan and settled into my chair for some reading.


After half an hour, he started to shiver.


An hour after that, he began to settle down, but still wouldn’t suck.


Another hour, and I had to pinch him to see if he was breathing; I wasn’t sure if he was even alive.  He swallowed when I dribbled some milk in his mouth, but that was about it.


Then he peed all over me, and started to struggle.  I offered the bottle, and he sucked back the two ounces in about six seconds.  Five minutes after that, he was struggling so hard I had to set him on the floor, for fear of dropping him.  Miraculous.


It appears that we have our goat back, though he’ll probably have to be a bottle baby, now.


My poor lazyboy, though…

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Being the total farming newbies we are, we were not quite sure if the goats had actually gotten bred.  We know there had been some significant trying going on, but it wasn’t clear if the buck’s equipment would be in proper working order quite so early, and the goats weren’t looking all that fat.  I’ll tell you, halfway through my pregnancy, I am looking a whole lot fatter than the goats were on Friday (which would have been approaching term for them, if they’d been bred).


Well, it turns out, they were.  We were in town for a coffee with my father yesterday, and did not get home until just after dark.   We pulled the car up near the barn, so Hubby could see to do the evening chores – I’ll admit, I stayed in the car where it was warm.   Hubby was having trouble rounding everyone up, though, so I got out to help a bit.  It was about then that we realized there were extra bodies in the pen.  Very teeny bodies – two of them.  Missy and Saffron were the two that should have been bred for sure, and were also the two who would not go in; upon closer examination, it was Missy who was covered in gore, so at least we knew who the little guys belonged to.


Missy is a first-time mom, and it shows.  She had the babies in a snowbank outside, instead of on the nice clean straw in the barn, and it looks like she had them and just kind of walked away.  They were still wet when we found them, shivering in the snow, and their little ears were frozen stiff.  They did not look like they’d managed to stand yet, and they were both looking pretty weak.  We scooped them up in some towels and took them inside to warm them up and dry them off.  I put a panicked message in to a homesteading board I frequent, and got immediate advice – get those little guys warm and dry, and go out and milk some colostrum from the mom to get into them, stat.  Without it, the babies would probably die.


So, back out to the barn we went, to milk a skittish first-time mom while kneeling in the snow, pregnant and tired.  That didn’t go so well.  I checked Saffron, and discovered she is ‘bagging up’ – she’s starting to produce colostrum, too – she will probably have babies soon, herself.  Well, we took some colostrum from Saff, who stood pretty quietly and saved a great deal more frustration and swearing, and went back in to feed the babies.  That went over well, and eventually they were warmed and fed enough to put back out with their mom.  At about midnight.


This morning, we found both babies doing okay, but not as perky as I’d like, especially the girl, who seems to be the weaker of the pair.  It wasn’t clear if Missy was letting them nurse, so we tried putting them on her.  They nosed around, but ended up sucking on her elbow, or her fur – if this is how instinct operates, I have to admit, I’m not impressed.  Unfortunately, the couple of times the babies did get close, Missy walked away.   We decided to give her a couple more hours before interfering any further.  I was afraid I was going to have to try to hand milk her again, but at lunchtime, we went out, put Missy on the milking stand, and got the babies to latch on.  Missy did not look too impressed, but she stood still for it…more or less.    We’ll follow up by doing that a couple more times, but the babies are looking stronger, so they may be able to manage it on their own, now, especially if Missy has finally gotten the idea of what she’s supposed to be doing.  We’ll see, tonight.


In the meantime, some gratuitous cute kid pictures:

The doeling

The buckling

Both kids together

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A couple weeks ago at work, three of us were taking a coffee break together.  Somehow, the conversation turned to 2012 predictions, pole shifts, zombie invasions, and the collapse of society.  One of our number sheepishly admitted to not having even an extra bottle of water in her house, and, basically, not being prepared for an emergency of any sort.


Now, I’m not a big believer in alien invasions or societal collapse, but I do strongly believe in being prepared for more-likely scenarios, like a simple power outage or a water main break.  Even a tornado or multi-day blizzard, or, my personal ultimate worry, long-term unemployment.  I gave my colleague a hard time, suggesting she should at least have a few basics on hand, like maybe a flashlight and a couple of big jugs of water, and possibly some extra food kicking around.  She laughed it off, telling me that if the water main broke, she’d just pack up the kids and head over to her parents’ place to do the laundry.


Fast forward a week or so, and the water treatment plant in town has broken down – there is a boil water order for the entire district.  You cannot even safely brush your teeth with the stuff, according to the Public Health advisory, or do your dishes or bathe your baby in it.  Wal Mart sold out of bottled water in about a day, and all the bottled-water shops (Culligan and the like) are backed up on orders.  The latest information I have been able to find is that this situation could stretch out for another month or more.   My colleague posted quite a forlorn note on facebook, likely feeling that this was entirely my fault.


It has been interesting at work.  I have a kettle in my office, so, every day I boil a kettle full of water to do my dishes in – no big deal, really.  I keep alcohol hand sanitizer in the office, too, so I just use that or the boiled water instead of my usual hand washing.  I work for a major institution, and they are bringing in thousands of bottles of water every day, to supply staff and clients.  I shudder to think about how much that must cost, and additionally, I wonder where they are finding all the water – it is likely being trucked in from other places in the province, as it’s certainly not being bought off-the-shelf at the local grocery.


Some of my colleagues are really struggling with living “like this” – they forget about the boil water thing and give the pets tap water, for instance, making them sick, or just feel frustrated with all the extra steps involved in getting the dishes done, all of a sudden.  Luckily, I have spent plenty of time traveling in third-world conditions, and the sudden conversion to having to think carefully about the safety of my food and water supply is pretty easy for me.  Unfortunately, if you have never been outside of Canada, it does come as quite a shock to think that the water coming out of your tap might not be so safe to wash your blueberries in, and it’s fairly easy to forget the basic precautions.  I have heard over and over that ‘things like this shouldn’t happen here’ – people are really offended at having to deal with the inconvenience.


Now, at home out here in the country, we’re not directly affected, as we’re on a cistern – lucky us!  We will have a bit of a problem eventually, as our cistern only holds about a month’s worth of water, and our town has completely shut down the municipal supply for trucking out to places like ours.   We had probably two or three weeks’ worth of water in the cistern under normal circumstances when the boil water order was announced.  We’re generally pretty conservative with our water use, as trucking it in costs a small fortune, so there are not too many ways we can cut back.  We’re doing laundry by hand right now, which is a gigantic pain in the butt, but that’s really the only place we can really cut consumption.  The animals still need water, and we still need to cook, bathe, and do dishes. We could melt snow like we did last spring, but there isn’t very much on the ground, so I don’t know how well that would work this year.


I called our water hauler, to see if they were shut down entirely.  The fellow on the phone assured me that we could still get water, trucked in from an unaffected community; it would just double the cost, is all.  Considering how pricey it is to haul water in the first place, we’ll be on ultra-conservation measures (Hubby doesn’t know it yet, but I’m considering instituting a thunder bucket in place of the toilet), but at least we can get good water, for a price.  The day after I contacted the company, the owner called me back, just to make sure I wasn’t worried about the safety or reliability of my water supply, and to assure me that he is servicing his regular customers before hauling water to all the new folks who suddenly want some, which currently happens to include the city itself.  He’d just appreciate an extra day or two of notice, in order to arrange the scheduling.  I appreciate his loyalty to his customers – he’s a good businessman, as well as being a nice guy.  He’ll be doing a stellar business, at least.


Now, a six-week boil water order is not exactly the collapse of society, but it’s one of those major inconveniences that can cause real hardship, and even sickness.   Having some bottled water on hand would give a person time to adapt to the situation, and even things like having a bit of bleach (currently recommended here for dish and laundry water, to kill the pathogens) or alcohol hand sanitizer (recommended in place of washing hands with the contaminated water) on hand can save a trip to the store when everyone else is rushing there in a panic – to buy bottled water, hand sanitizer, and bleach, of course!  That is the sort of thing I’m talking about when I say I like to be prepared…



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For me, it all started when I moved into a house with apple trees.  You see, I simply could not let all those apples go to waste, even though I couldn’t possibly eat them all, either.  In the end, I learned how to can applesauce, and the rest, as they say, is history.


Mom made jelly and chokecherry syrup when I was young, but I did not really grow up on home-canned food.  I taught myself from books and the internet, with occasional advice from folks I knew.  I still quite clearly recall the trepidation I felt, the very first time I ate a jar of applesauce I had made myself.  Had I done it right?  Was I going to die?  Luckily, Hubby grew up on home-canned food, and had no reservations at all – he just dug right in, and I drew courage from his example.


Now, I’m no canning guru.  I make a few dozen jars of jam every year, some pickles, some salsa, a few dozen quarts of peaches and pears…just a little of this and that.  I certainly don’t feed the family exclusively on home-canned goods, but I do have to say, we don’t buy canned fruit, either.  I recently started to learn about canning more exotic goods, like meat and beans, which are going on the to-do list, though we’ll see how soon they actually get done.


I hang out on a number of homesteading forums, and I see a lot of questions posted about canning.  It’s clear that more and more people are getting into it, whether it’s the bad economy or the do-it-yourself attitude that’s been catching on, and I think that’s a wonderful thing.  Unfortunately, though, there are a lot of people spreading dangerous misinformation, and I am afraid that, sooner or later, there is going to be a tragedy (or several) as a result.


You see, back in my grandmother’s day, everything was canned in what is called a water-bath canner.  Basically, jars were filled, water or sugar syrup added, the lids put on, and the jars were boiled in a big pot for varying lengths of time, in the hopes of killing off the fungi, yeasts, and bacteria that would spoil the food.  That works fine for high-acid foods, like applesauce and peaches, but it is not sufficient for low-acid foods, like meat or beans.   However, there are still lots of people who can that way – they boil the meat for two hours, or three hours, and call it safe.  And these people are posting their recipes on the internet, and commenting that they have been ‘doing it this way for years’ (and they have), and ‘nobody has ever gotten sick from my canned chicken’ (also probably true).  The thing is, even if nobody has ever gotten sick from Auntie’s canned chicken recipe, does not mean that nobody ever will.


The problem is botulism.  Botulism comes from a spore that can survive boiling temperatures (100 degrees Celsius) for basically an indefinite amount of time, which means it does not matter if you boil something for twenty minutes or three hours, you won’t kill it.  Now, in acidic foods, that does not matter much, since the spores won’t hatch in an acidic environment (a pH of less than 4.6), so even if the spores exist, they are effectively neutralized.  The spores themselves don’t cause any problems; it is when they hatch and start to produce toxins that they become an issue.  Botulin, the toxin produced by clostridium botulism (the botulism bacteria) is extremely potent, and it does not take much to make someone very, very sick, or even kill them.  You can’t see it or smell it, and the food won’t appear spoiled.  Luckily, botulism is rare, and only hatches under pretty specific conditions – it is an anaerobic bacteria, which means it can’t survive contact with the air, and it does not tolerate acidity.  So, really, you only have to worry about it in low-acid, anaerobic conditions.  Like canned chicken.


In order to safely can low-acid foods, you need to use a pressure canner.  A pressure canner has a lid that locks on, and uses steam and pressure to reach much higher temperatures that you can get from just a pot on a stove – they can get over 121 degrees Celsius, which is the temperature required to kill the botulism spores.   Unfortunately, pressure canners are expensive, and I suspect a lot of people (especially people who are taking up canning in order to save money) will be tempted to use Granny’s recipe for canning beef by boiling the jars for three hours, since nobody’s ever died from Granny’s canned food.  Yet.  Remember, botulism is rare, but then again, so are house fires.  That does not stop most people from taking basic safety precautions, and maybe getting some insurance, right?


So please, if you are new to canning, do your research, and take the time to understand why things are supposed to be done one way or another.  Only use recipes from a reliable source, like the Ball Blue Book of Canning, or the USDA Guide for Canning, which can be downloaded for free.   Don’t just take someone’s word for it that their Auntie / Mother / Grandmother canned this way for years – it’s a risk that’s simply not worth taking.

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Last month, I posted about how our stored garden produce was doing.  I’ve decided to update things:


As you may recall, we harvested most of our garden in the second week of September, due to frost.  So we’re now at the five-ish month mark for our produce.


In the root cellar:


The carrots are still hanging in there…barely.   They are getting pretty shriveled, and you have to dig through the baskets to find the good ones.  We may or may not still have any truly edible carrots by the end of the month.  We planted two different varieties of carrots – Red Cored Danvers and Scarlet Nantes Coreless, and we have not noticed any difference in how well they keep.  As I mentioned in January, we have had issues controlling the humidity, and that probably shortened the storage life of the carrots significantly.  However, five months is decent, all things considered.


The beets are now starting to soften.  They are still completely edible, and are showing no signs of rot, but they are not at their peak, anymore.


The potatoes are still in great shape.  They are not quite as crisp as when they were harvested, but they are in no danger of going bad.  The store-ability of the potatoes is impressing the heck out of us.  We have four different varieties in storage, and so far there is no variability between them; they’re all doing very well.


The cabbages that we purchased sometime before Halloween also continue to do well.  The outermost leaves are dry and papery, but the heads themselves are still solid and edible.


The non-root cellar crops are also doing quite well.   We went through all of the squash, which we have been keeping in a spare bedroom that we had closed the furnace vent in.  About five squashes (four pumpkins and a turk’s turban gourd) had moldy spots, so we cut out the mold and fed the rest to the chickens.  All of the spaghetti squash are still fine.  The acorn squashes are starting to go orange, which I think is a sign of being over-ripe, but they show no signs of mold or softness.  In all, we removed about 10% of the squash (from our original harvest of around 50 squashes of various types).  We are pretty impressed, given how little attention we have devoted to storing and managing the squash.


The onions are also going strong.  We have found a few that needed to be discarded, but they represented a very small percentage, overall.  We have been storing onions in two different locations, to test what works best:  we kept a large basket of onions in the cool, dry spare room with the squash, and a couple of braids in a warm store-room.  Both groups seem to be doing fine, though the onions in the warmer location have fared somewhat worse, with a couple of rotten onions out of maybe twenty, versus a few rotten onions in a basket of a couple hundred.  We planted 400 onion sets last spring, and, surprisingly, are starting to be in danger of running out.


Next year, we will do a better job of managing the overall humidity in the root cellar, as that seems to be what has done in the carrots, and, earlier, the turnips.  However, in all, it does seem to be viable to expect to be eating at least some of our own root-cellared produce right up until spring, even with our inexperience and imperfect storage conditions.



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