Thirty-four Degrees

Good morning from the cold and frosty mountain side of California. Like everyone else, we are gearing up for the beloved American holiday, Thanksgiving. We have three turkeys left out in the pen and that big white tom is going to be one hell of a meal. My mother was asking me the other day if I thought Tom would feed ten of us. I responded that he was going to easily be fifteen pounds… dressed. Although, now I think he will be closer to eighteen or twenty pounds. Tom is our biggest turkey, but really– the Bronze tom and hen are not too far behind.

For the last couple months they have been thriving on grain, kitchen scraps, and whatever green weeds I find around the yard that I am willing to sacrifice.

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Luckily we have been getting a fair amount of rain storms in our area. The drought this year has been severe, to say it mildly, but a little rain here and here makes for some good days. We won’t get back to normal for quite some time and that is evident by just looking at New Melones lake (you can see the town at the bottom that they flooded to make the lake). All we can do in the meantime is be thankful for the rain we have gotten.

And that is what the Thanksgiving season is all about, right? Of course we should be thankful year-round, but we all can’t be quite that disiplined. You hear that all the time it seems: we should be thankful all year and not just during the holiday season. However, I think that is the true beauty of the holiday season. It rips us all away from our inner thoughts and troubles and fills people with thoughts of family, giving, and love. We should be mindful of this throughout the year, but it is difficult and most of us need this seasonal reminder.

I am glad for it either way. I don’t know about you, but I like the kick in the butt.

Setting Up 2015 To Be Better

It really wouldn’t take much to make 2015 a better year than 2014 has been. We have had numerous losses this year due to the heat, the move, and more heat. But maybe we can turn it all around.

Does anyone else notice cycles like that? 2010-2013 were fabulous years for our farm. We had dozens of litters born, garden growth that would rival the jungle, pumpkins and tomatoes galore, so many eggs that we were selling and freezing them left and right and still made a weekly quiche.

Perhaps our one “off” year is enough to get back into that lovely cycle where great things happen all season long.

I am trying to nudge our good fortune into that happy-sparkly-rainbows-and-unicorns area by breeding my goats. Yesterday I took the two Nigerian Dwarf goats to a local’s house who had two bucks in need of “dates”. The bucks are no award winners, but they are clean, bright eyed, and very healthy looking. The owner of the bucks and I agreed that my does could stay with the bucks for one week and hopefully when I bring them home, they will have bellies full of babies.

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So here I was, with no truck yesterday morning, holding onto the leashes of two piggish goats. Trevor and I pulled out two new tarps and covered the backseat of our little 4-door sedan. The whole back seat, the floor, and the back of the front sheets were all covered with two layers of blue tarp. I gave each goat a little ally-oop into the car and clipped the leashes onto the anchor point in the back that is usually meant for child car seats.

The goats and I drove off to meet their new boyfriends in the next town over. It was a 40-minute drive, but I figure it’s all relative considering we are rural folk now. I even took a photo of my high tech transportation method, but it came out blurry and all you could see was my head and Bridgit’s butt. It wasn’t worth sharing. I think Luna might be a little camera shy. I’ll have Trevor take a picture of us when I bring them back home next Saturday.

All-in-all, the tarps worked perfectly. Since I transported them before they had any food or water, no one peed in my car. That makes for a real good day.

Good, Bad, and Irritating

Good news! Philly had her babies! She kindled four very plump healthy looking kits Saturday night.

Do you feel the “but” coming? But, she gave birth to them on the wire floor instead of in the beautiful and warm nest she built and so they died of exposure. That’s a big but. I often have people insist that solid floor hutches are the better way to go. In this case, it would not have saved the kits to have a solid floor either. Baby rabbits are born hairless and so the only things that keep them from freezing to death (even in the middle of summer) are: a nest filled with warm fur, warm milk, and body heat from one another in the nest. Without any ONE of these things, the kits usually die.

So there it is. I am starting breeding all over again. I will give Philly 48 hours after birth before breeding her. This time, Philly will be bred to our no-name Chestnut and Indigo will hopefully comply with being bred to Ibn. Toblerone will sit this one out. I already know he is a good breeder, but I have paired him with Philly many times and I do not want to pair him with Indigo. Toblerone is a self chocolate, recessive, and Indigo is a self lilac, double recessive. I have observed with my own rabbits and rabbits from other Rabbitries, that too many recessive color genes result in weaker rabbits. It is just an observation of course, and so has no real scientific fact to back it up, but my eyes are what I have to work with.

The wait begins again. At least I know my rabbits are willing to breed again after that horribly long and hot summer. Cross your fingers and hold your breath for litters born this time next month.

It’s Quiet Today

Quiet days creep me out. Plain and simple. When it is too quiet, I feel like something is going to happen and I probably won’t like it. A coyote will come off the hill and scare the goats, or a bobcat will mill around the wooded vacant lot looking for a chicken or turkey to eat, or a fire will break out down the road. Although, everything is “down the road” now. Still, silence feels eerie and foreboding.

This morning there were very few sounds around the neighborhood. Usually when I come out the front door to do my animal feeding chores I startle little robins and finches and quail. But today there didn’t seem to be much of anyone around as I walked the goats out to their teathers in the yard.

When I opened up the rabbit shed for some fresh air, I checked in on Philly’s nestbox. I kind of gave up on updating my breeding schedules online because of our flat-out lack of rabbit litters born since we moved here. But this morning I have a little hope.

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That, my fine friends of the world wide web, is fur. Rabbit fur to be precise. And like I say, rabbit fur in the nestbox = baby rabbits very, very soon. Rabbits like to play tricks on breeders by carrying hay around in their mouths or by making mock nests, but there is no pretending to pull fur.

Just that little bit of fur in a box has perked me up so much today. I started off the morning by debating the merits of Girl Scouts and selling cookies that have GMO ingredients in them with an aquaintence on Facebook… and let me tell you, there is no surer way to feel like bashing your head in against a wall than that. But now my day feels a little brighter thinking that we might have the first rabbits to ever be born on our new, beginning and budding farm soon.

This is a repeat breeding pair (Philly and Toblerone) because they are both proven successful breeders and my unproven pair has yet to have a successful “date”. Still, keep your fingers crossed! We need some babies around here!

End of the Year

Tonight marks the end of the agricultural year. Some call it Hallows Eve, or Halloween, or Día de Muertos, some even call it Samhain. No matter the name, tomorrow will be a whole new year of farming to experience and learn from.

We have lived on this new land in a new town for seven months now and still when I look outside, it looks wild to me. The front two acres have been very easy to force into a civil landscape. Trevor mowed the wild grasses and weeds in the spring and the summer heat kept most of it from growing very tall. The goats have nibbled down every blade of grass in their pen and have kindly trimmed the low tree branches in the “front yard”.

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No matter what the goats do in the back half-acre of grass, it looks like a dry, lonely meadow. The tall stalks of wild grasses stop where the seasonal creek winds through our acreage. On the other side of the narrow and rocky path that will soon fill up with water, is a slight grade filled with rocks and brush. Next to our narrow, rectangle-shaped property is a vacant lot that gives us a buffer between the house and the main road.

We have recently spotted deer and bobcats hiding among the various oaks and pines growing there. The brush is so tall both on our back two acres and around the side in the vacant lot that it is easy for coyotes to mill around unnoticed. When the fire truck from the station a few blocks over runs it’s siren, you can hear dozens of coyotes sing in the hills surrounding us. At first I thought it was a little creepy, but now I wait to hear their voices and find it comforting.

Our wild dirt and hills have not tamed since we moved here. I think it is more that we have carved out a few spots of our own. If we are lucky, this new agricultural year will bless us with three more turkey dinners; a successful breeding of the goats, the first goat kids born here on the farm, and the milk that comes along with all that; a few apple trees planted in the spring; perhaps even some new garden beds; and a thriving pumpkin patch by the next year’s end.

Tonight we will celebrate the end of an awkward year with a homeraised chicken, some homemade bread rolls, and a couple organic market acorn squash. We may even get some rain this afternoon! What better way to start anew than a good autumn storm cloud overhead.