Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Penguin the Chicken Wants YOU to Buy Her Eggs!

With the arrival of spring on the Farm, the chickens are back to production! For so many weeks, I was gathering just a few eggs each week -- not nearly enough to satisfy my own use! The good news is that the hens are happily clucking away and laying numerous delicious eggs once more! My chickens wander about the pasture in the daytime and spend their nights inside the henhouse that my great-grandfather built in 1928. They are fed a specially made chicken mash that my local feed store produces. This provides them with excellent nutrition! Plus, my chickens enjoy lots of leftovers: vegetables & breads are their favorites, and they have a special love of spinach artichoke dip! I sell fresh eggs from the farm for $3/dozen. I take pride in the eggs that my chickens lay -- the yolks are a vivid golden color! According to my friend Frau Bricker, the eggs that my chickens lay are superior for her use when cooking & baking traditional German recipes! Please feel free to contact me with egg orders at 614.271.0304! The chickens thank you!

Friday, March 18, 2011

I Love You, Forrest Goat!

I will admit openly admit that there are many parts of farm life that are tough/dirty/exhausting . . . but I enjoy them nonetheless! Cleaning a box stall? YUCK! What fun! Wiping baby goat poop off a little kid's bottom? Disgusting! Come here cute little goat! Tromping through mud/snow/dust to feed goats? UGH! Can't keep me out of the barn & in the house! But there is one part of my work that I detest, as much as I understand that it is part of my responsibility: deciding when it is time for one of my aged animals to be butchered.

I have often written on dealing with the loss of animals. As much as new life is a part of my world, so is death. I rejoice in each birth and mourn each loss. It is especially hard, though, when I have to make the decision -- as a responsible farmer -- to say goodbye to an animal that is special to me. I spent many months caring for Forrest the Goat and refusing to sell him. Within the last few weeks, however, I began to realize that Forrest was not enjoying life as much. I was keeping him with me for my enjoyment, not his. As an animal owner, I had to accept that it was time to say goodbye.

Forrest was the son of Cleopatra, one of two goats that Mother & I bought in West Virginia. After the purchase of our first six goats from Montana, we found a mother & daughter for sale in West Virginia and added them to our herd. Cleo was grumpy, but beautiful. She gave birth to Forrest in 2001. He was a single, and when I first saw I thought he was dead. The baby was all sprawled out. I approached and was delighted to see he was alive! Unfortunately, he was not able to walk very well (and didn't seem too bright). Thus, he became Forrest Goat after Forrest Gump. I recall few baby goats that were sweeter! Due to his walking problems, we ended up bottle-feeding Forrest. I have sweet memories of my brother Kevin visiting the farm and giving Forrest his bottle of milk!

I adored little Forrest, and did not want to part with this sweet-tempered, gangly kid. Thus, he was castrated and became a permanent fixture in the herd. With his physical issues, he would have been an unsuitable sire. By castrating him, Forrest was able to stay in the herd as a bellwether. He was loving in a brotherly way toward the lady goats -- and never liked dogs. When he saw one, Forrest would stomp his feet at that canine to assert his protection over "his ladies"! Forrest was friendly toward humans, and was often at my side while I worked in the barn. I have so many happy memories of Forrest!

Forrest had hoof problems throughout his life. Every year at some point, I would find myself doctoring him. This was compounded by arthritis over the last year. As he disliked walking, he went out into the pasture less, and thus ate less. Since last fall, I was struggling to keep weight on him. Most recently, Forrest lived with Boyo the buck and two other ladies. We briefly got his hoof rot under control after the holidays, but then it reappeared. As much as I babied him, he was getting more uncomfortable. Just a month ago, I turned down another offer to sell him. In the last couple weeks, though, I came to be at peace that I would soon have to make the decision to butcher him. His meat was a healthy protein for my dog, and I couldn't bear to see him suffer.

In anticipation of my upcoming trip to Washington, I decided it was time last weekend. I did not want Forrest to be miserable without me there on the farm to give him special attention. With my sentimental streak, I did not want to be the one to do the kill. Mustapha (who works for Blystone Farm), kindly agreed to come help me. I took some pictures of my special goat that afternoon. When Mustapha arrived, I embraced Forrest's neck and told him what a good goat he was. How happy he had made me. That he was noble and had earned his rest. That my mother and Thunder and Abe were all waiting for him. I helped Mustapha hold him as this trained butcher quickly & respectfully brought Forrest to the conclusion of his life cycle.

The meat from this wonderful goat will now nourish my dogs as they work to protect the farm & the animals. I gave the internal items to Mustapha to cook for his family. The pups ended up with some bones to play with and I kept Forrest's horns as tokens of my love for him. While these physical parts of Forrest linger briefly after his life, it is in my memory that he continues on. The life cycle is a reality of agriculture and of life. We are born, we live, we die. I never become immune to the difficulty of making the decision to end a life, but I accept that sometimes death is the most appropriate next step in caring for an animal. It is part of my responsibility as a farmer. I am grateful for all the years that I had with Forrest, and grateful that he is now at rest!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Goatherd Ruminates on Animal Care

Today I worked on cleaning out the box stall in the barn. This is one of my least favorite tasks on the farm, but it must be done. It goes without saying that goats cannot be potty trained, and thus their waste tends to considerably pile up over time. Modern barns are constructed so that machinery can enter and clear out the waste from the livestock. It can then be used as a fertilizer to nourish fields. Unfortunately, my barn was built a century before farmers could have envisioned machinery that would assist in this task! Thus, I utilize the classic tools of pitchfork and wheelbarrow to remove the manure!

We had a dusting of snow last night, so it was cool today. Dressed in my Carhartt overalls and Muck boots, I was less than glamorous as I began my task! The pups offered their “supervision” by first playing and then napping exactly where I wanted to work! I used my pitchfork to lift layer after layer of manure and toss it in the wheelbarrow – not an easy task on the back. Once I filled the wheelbarrow, I pulled & pulled across the barnyard, across the horse lot, all the way to the compost pile. Despite the snow last night, the ground was soft & muddy. This made it a bit difficult to navigate the horse lot pulling a heavy wheelbarrow, but the pups cheered me on!

I then pushed the wheelbarrow up the compost pile as far as I could and emptied it. After this, I tossed the larger chunks of manure up on top of the pile, to discourage the pups from digging in the compost. (Thanks a lot, boys, for pointing out the need for more cover on the pile by illustrating how easy it was to dig down to where Abe the Mule was buried!) That part of the job is particularly dirty, as I always end up with muck inside my gloves. My gloves are old & worn, and my finances do not permit the purchase of new ones.

I must admit to the fact that I can only manage about three loads per day before I reach my physical limit. This was particularly true today: the first Friday of Lent. My meager bowl of cheerios for breakfast caused my stomach to sound like a hyena as I was working on the last load I carried out! The other less-than-super part of the job is that I inevitably get very warm as I work, causing me to perspire. This leads me to start removing layers, and then I end up sweaty & cold in the winter weather – yuck! This probably also contributes to the hearing issues I have, which I suspect result from untreated ear infections. My grandfather likewise suffered from hearing issues, thus I wonder if our outdoor work in the winter weather added to a genetic predisposition to this problem. I cannot afford health insurance, so I do what I can to manage this problem without seeing a doctor. (Please be patient whenever I ask you to repeat what you just said!)

Despite these complaints, I recognize the importance of the task of cleaning the barn. The next group of does will begin kidding at the end of March, and I want to have a nice clean pen for the mothers. As I worked, I contemplated everything I had done today to promote quality livestock care. I took feed, water, and hay to the pen of little doelings that need to put on weight. It is costing me extra investment to nurse these little girls along, but I want them to be in good form. I gave extra rations & water to the yearlings that were just bred. Some may be pregnant, some may not, but I am trying to give them every benefit I can to ensure they are successful mothers.

I took water out to the main herd, stumbling through the mud pit that has formed outside the barn, thanks to all the rain we’ve had of late. The does stood safe & dry inside the barn and watched me as I struggled! Next, I picked up the hay they had wasted by strewing it on the ground. We have to be as efficient as possible, so I warned the ladies to clean up that hay before they got grain. I noticed that my tiny baby goat Scrappy Coco was looking particularly hungry. I was actually shocked when his mother gave birth to him, as she was thinner than I like a mother to be. Thus, I have been doing everything I reasonably can to help Scrappy. I “convinced” Bounce the Goat to let Scrappy nurse her for a few minutes. Bounce has a very full udder of milk and only one baby on her. She was not particularly pleased by this nursing activity, but I tried to be gentle as I held her & talked to her about what a good goat she is. Scrappy managed to get a decent meal and returned to his own mama.

I then clambered through even more mud to get to the bucks! Boyo K. Manley and Sean of Arabia live with good old Forrest, my bellwether. Forrest will be ten in April and is suffering from arthritis & hoof trouble. He’s had a long life, and I have come to peace with the fact that I will soon need to butcher him. He is aging and his physical ailments make life more difficult. I want my animals to be content during their lives and to be respected when they die. Soon I will have to make the decision that it is the appropriate day for him to be slaughtered. His meat will go to feed my guard dog, Jolie. Until then, though, I dote on him to keep him well. I am sure that I look ridiculous when I stand guard while Forrest eats so I can shoo Boyo & Sean away from Forrest’s bowl!

Next on the schedule was feeding the chickens. The hens are finally starting to lay again after a long winter break. This morning I was delighted to find 2 eggs! I let the chickens outside to frolic and will return tonight to shut them inside. I have lost hens before to foxes & raccoons, so I am very vigilant to keep them penned up at night. Once I get the box stall cleaned out, the chicken house will be next on the agenda. My final task, before getting to work on the box stall, was to feed the pups. Puppy chow is incredibly pricey, but these are working dogs that need good nutrition. The Pyrenees pups will require great financial investment, but their job is to protect the herd from the coyotes that have killed so many of my precious goats. Plus the love of a good dog is very rewarding!

As I worked I considered all of the items I had completed thus far in an effort to provide good care for my livestock. It struck me that there were very few animal rights activists who could list so many accomplishments for individual animals! I began to ruminate on how Wayne Pacelle, CEO of HSUS, might be spending his day. The Humane Society of the United States is truly misnamed, because they do NOT support local shelters. I have only the greatest respect for local humane societies that work to actually provide care for animals. This respect only increases my disdain for HSUS – which raises money under the notion that it supports shelters and then spends that money on efforts to hamper farmers like me. HSUS has made it clear that it promotes a vegan society and is against livestock production.

As the CEO of HSUS, I admit that Wayne Pacelle – with his perpetual orange tan and emotional speeches – is an easy target. I take the efforts of his lobbying group quite seriously, however. Wayne Pacelle runs an organization with a budget in the millions, compared to my little farm that I scrimp to operate. While I fed my livestock in the cold today, covered in mud & manure, he was probably wearing an expensive suit in a climate-controlled office. Wayne Pacelle might have been flying across the United States to raise money for his animal rights group, while I wondered if I would be able to afford the gas money to drive to a farm conference tomorrow. He probably discussed efforts to run million dollar campaigns in various states in an effort to restrict farmers, while I sacrificed things I need to be able to provide for the actual care of animals. Wayne Pacelle will probably head home to relax after work tonight, while I will be back in the barn – in the dark & the cold – making sure each creature is safe for the night.

In truth, I am sure Wayne Pacelle shares many of the struggles that we all share as humans. I expect that if we sat down and chatted over dinner (tofu for him, steak for me), we would have an interesting conversation. Wayne, you can consider that an open invitation! I resent the fact, however, that we farmers work so hard to provide the best quality care we can for our animals, and end up attacked by animal rights groups. The irony is that I am exactly the type of farmer that most of these groups would say they support: I have a small, sustainable operation where I feed my animals hay & grain raised in Ohio, and I sell my animals to be processed locally to feed an underserved ethnic population. Despite this, I know that any effort to hinder agriculture affects each and every farmer. When outside lobbying groups attempt to dictate how farmers raise their animals & their crops, farmers AND consumers lose! I have a great respect for the consumers I serve, and I am likewise offended when these lobbying groups attempt to limit our ability to freely choose the food we want through our spending dollars!

Obviously, mucking out a stall allows my mind to wander on many topics! I am certainly an opinionated goatherd, but those opinions have been formed while shoveling manure, trimming goat hooves, baling hay, and cutting meat on a band saw. I am appreciative of research studies and commentaries that I read, but I will openly admit that my opinions on farming and on life have been shaped through the realities I experience. All life is precious. Animals deserve appropriate care. The life cycle is to be respected. There is a greater reward beyond this world for those who walk humbly with God. There is no endeavor more ancient and noble than the care of the earth and the Lord’s creatures.

So, Wayne Pacelle, what did you do today to promote animal care?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

4-H Rocks! Stories from the Goatherd's Youth . . .

Recently I was asked to speak at a 4-H club on how my life was impacted by 4-H. With that approaching engagement, I have thought quite a bit about my experiences. I am proud to have been an 11 year 4-Her in Fairfield County OH! Despite growing up on a livestock farm, I took only one animal project during that entire time. Most of my projects were related to home economics: cooking, sewing, genealogy, health, laundry, etc. One of my proudest moments was winning the state in the bread competition in 1990, which earned me a trip to the National 4-H conference in Chicago! This was a big trip for a little 14 year old from the farm! Chicago seemed cold, but full of great restaurants. I remember being super excited for our "formal" event at the hotel ballroom so that I could wear my new black velvet & hot pink satin dress! (Truly, I was ready to rock fashion in the 90s!) I still make my winning yeast roll recipe from 1990 for many holiday gatherings!

As much as I enjoyed cooking I hated sewing! My mother & I would battle constantly over her efforts to get me to sit down and SEW! I remember getting in trouble because I would hide in our closet (that had a light!) and read novels when I was supposed to be sewing. It taught me a great deal of resposibility, however, to take charge of completing my projects. The week before project judging was always stressful as I hurried to complete everything. My mother would intone: "If a task is once begun, never leave it 'til it's done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all." Oh, I got so tired of hearing that! I knew it meant that if I signed up for a project there was NO way she was letting me quit. Here's the amazing thing, though: I find as an adult that I never even contemplate quitting something no matter how hard the task. And, I even find myself repeating that same saying at times! I may still struggle at sewing buttonholes, but through 4-H I learned the value of hard work, leadership, and responsibility. I like to think my mother would be proud!

Having these memories at the forefront of my mind was great during today's OSU Extension Legislative Luncheon at the Statehouse! This is an event to help educate legislators on the work that Extension does and the value that it has. The 4-H program helped to shape me as a young person, and I now use those skills when I serve as a speaker at Extension events related to sheep & goat production! Part of the mission of land-grant institutions is to share research with the community. Thus, numerous programs have grown out of Extension such as 4-H, Master Gradener groups, money-management classes, etc. Extension is funded jointly through federal dollars, state funds, and county monies. Extension has a vitally important role as more people are interested in growing & preserving their own foods, as farmers need to feed an ever-increasing population, and as young people need opportunities to develop skills for the new economy.

I had the pleasure today of seeing my personal State Representative, the wonderful Anne Gonzales! In addition I got to speak with Franklin County Representative Michael Stinziano. Both of these freshmen legislators have been very supportive of agriculture, and I applaud their efforts! Our Great State of Ohio is looking at significant budget cuts, which will undoubtedly impact every program. Despite this awareness, any opportunity to educate our legislators on agricultural and community programs is valuable! The highlight of the day for me was getting to see the Extension Home Ec educator who was based in Fairfield County during most of my 4-H career! It was very rewarding to see this lady who had such an impact on me as a young person and to thank her for all that she did!

4-H was such a key part of my youth and I was honored to be able to share with our legislators the impact of this program on me personally as just a small part of the good work that OSU Extension does! And even though my mother accused me of faking illness during the summer of 1988 so that I wouldn't have to do my 4-H projects, I am still incredibly grateful for her efforts as my parent & my 4-H leader! I ended up getting PLENTY of mileage from the maternal guilt she felt when I was diagnosed with emergency appendicitis! But despite that hospital stay, I still got my 4-H projects completed on time . . . If a task is once begun, never leave it 'til it's done! Thanks Mum!