Thanksgiving is just around the corner… The turkeys suggest we eat ham this year. Har! Not a chance, big guys.
Welcome our newest caprine friends, Luna and Bridgit. You may remember during the month of December I helped care for and milked these goats for their owner, my friend Traci. Well, Traci and her family have since decided to focus on full-size breeds instead of these Nigerian Dwarf goats and so they needed a new home.
Since my birthday is coming up soon I told my mother–who just happens to own a truck– that the only thing I want for my birthday is goat transportation. It also gave my parents an excuse to come out to visit, but honestly, I couldn’t have gotten them out here very comfortably in my little sedan. So my parents stopped by my friends house, loaded two very round goats into their truck bed, hooked them in, and very carefully drove an hour, and across the river, to our house.
When they arrived Trevor and I hopped into the back of the truck with leashes and walked the two new goats to the goat pen. I felt a little ridiculous walking this short, little, stubby thing to the goat pen on a leash. After spending so much time with the tall Freyja and graceful Heidrun, walking a Nigerian Dwarf to the pen felt how I would imagine walking a pig on a leash: leading a heavy, round, and perpetually hungry porker on not much more than a string.
My mom thought that the taller, super model goats might give the new girls an inferiority complex. But her dog Smokey, a dachshund, thought they looked beautiful just as they are.
All the humans stood outside a few moments to make sure the two pairs of goats, short and tall, met each other and tested the fence. When the new goats tried out the fence they busted out like mini bulls and I realized that their noses only reached the second wire, a cold wire. So we set that straight by switching all the low wires to be “hot” electric wires and made the grounding wire one of the higher wires. After adjusting the fence I touched the nose of both goats to the wire so they would learn the boundary and not plow right through the fence again. Success. Electric fences really do work as long as you have lots and lots of hot wires, have a high enough charge, and it is always on.
Luna (black and white) is the mother of Bridgit (tan and white). They both have been dried off for about a month and are ready to breed again. It will probably take a few weeks to let them adjust to their new home, the other two goats, and also to find a local with a Nigerian Dwarf stud to breed them with. Just like any other animal, you can breed the female with a smaller breed, but never a larger breed buck because the resulting offspring would cause complications due to sheer size. And since Nigerian Dwarves are about as small as it gets, I will need to specifically find a Nigerian Dwarf stud.
When I am ready to breed Freyja (Nubian) and Heidrun (Toggenburg/Nubian), I can technically breed them with any other breed since they are large-breeds themselves. I will do my best, however, to find a dairy-breed stud to breed them to.
The Tao Te Ching is a philosophical and often spiritual text of meditative verses. The Tao Te Ching is a book of ancient Chinese wisdom written sometime around 500 B.C.E by the sage, Lao Tzu. The book has endured thousands of years because it has timeless understanding of life. Second only to the Bible, the Tao Te Ching is the most translated book in the world.
In this series, we are going to approach the Tao Te Ching from a farmer’s point of view. Let all of us– backyard farmers, market farmers, chicken raisers, and “wannabe” farmers alike– take on these poetic truths together.
Farming with the Tao series
Drought burns basins to dust,
Light rain is a dew of mockery.
Receive without complaint,
Work with fate.
The Tao Te Ching thinks of everything, I tell ya. I set out this morning to find a verse that fit my current mood towards the farm. From a few of my past posts it is easy for one to see that I need a new lesson in patience, endurance, and faith. Once in awhile I just need to close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. Once I read this particular verse there was just no way that I would find a more fitting or more relevant passage.
Despite my best efforts, even when the land is choked by drought, it is useless to complain. When light rain barely moistens the ground, we need to accept it. We need to learn to accept what comes.
We can plan for the future and have an utopian view of time and space that works within our schedule and knowledge, but the universe has a different sense of time; universal time bends and twists. We (more specifically, I) can cry and whine in frustration over rainfall, but those who accept the fate of the universe are, or work to become, prepared.
This is not to say that acceptance is fatalism. We should not stand by, inactive and let time pass by. Instead, we need to work within our circumstances.
This year we have experienced an exceptional drought so I should now be conserving water and setting up methods of saving future water. Because if there is one thing that the universe is always sure to do, it is balance itself out. I will do my best to take the remainder of this land and farm production drought without complaint, work with what I have, and prepare for the future when heavy rains, baby animals, and the milk and honey are sure to flow again.
*Tao Te Ching translations by Ming-Dao Deng. Unsightly opinions by Sarah.
It isn’t much, but I am told that it’s okay. I’m sticking with the thought that any honey is better than no honey… so that’s what I’ll be thankful for. We pulled in about one gallon of honey (a sad comparison to last year’s 3.5ish gallons). I have yet to weigh it because I am still straining it all.
Trevor forgot to put frames into one of the honey supers he stuck on Hive #2 and so the bees drew comb without any frame-work. Thus, we could not use the extractor this year since none of the honey super frames in Hive #1 had honey in them. Essentially we harvested from one poorly installed honey super from one hive. It wasn’t all Trevor’s fault though. He had put the empty super box on because we had a sudden heat wave. When he went back a few days later to install the frames to go with it, the bees had already started making honeycomb. He thought it better to leave them be than destroy perfectly good comb. I agreed.
But since having to extract the honey from raw comb, I’d have to say that it is something I never want to do again. What a pain in the bootycakes! Some people like comb in their honey, or honey in the comb, but I shudder at the idea of mistakenly eating a bee or a leg left behind. It kind of creeps me out. So I strain all our honey through metal mesh– which tends to take years. Years.
This year’s honey is really dark and almost molasses-like in consistency and color. I thought our 2013 Sonora honey was dark, but now I know what dark is. Our 2013 Sonora honey was the color of dark maple syrup and sweet with almost maple tones, probably from the many sugar maples in the neighborhood the bees surely foraged on.
Our 2014 Mountain Ranch honey is nearly black, thicker than blackstrap molasses, and has a sweet, yet equally dark flavor. It tastes a little like a deep wood mixed with a sweet, not sugary, under note like a dark forest. It feels like I am describing wine here, but in all honesty, how else does one describe a new flavor of honey?
This afternoon we harvested honey from our two hives and I felt, well, disappointed with the haul. We pulled in about 1.5 gallons of honey, probably less, which hardly compares to our 3.75 gallon harvest last year. I will weigh everything out later and share photos, but it felt like a great let down. When you wait all year for something your hopes tend to be high.
We bought this house because of the possibilities we envisioned accomplishing here. Dairy goats, rabbits, half a dozen beehives, chickens meandering about, a cart donkey, turkeys in the summer and a pair of bacon-on-legs in the winter, a fodder shed and aquaponics, a grand garden and fruit orchard. These are our beautiful dreams. They will all become reality, but once I saw the poor honey haul come out of the hive super, I felt a stab of pain. As if some of those dreams faded just a bit.
This must be the first-year blues. We are actually in our fourth year (?) or fifth year (??), I’ve lost count, but we are essentially starting our farm all over again from scratch. Very few of our original systems were transferable to our new farm. New sheds and animal shacks needed to be built on top of fixing up the house and painting. When buying a house, some things take priority and I understand that. I just thought we would be further along by now.
Everyone seems to be in a drought. Freyja only produces a quart of milk a day rather than 2-4 quarts (my fault for not doing an AM and PM milking from the moment I weaned the bucklings). Our chickens have been molting and so have not laid eggs in almost two months. The rabbits have failed to breed on the last two tries and so I have not had a litter since January. And now from the two beehives we have, only one hive produced a harvestable amount of honey. We will even have to supplement feed this winter which we have not done since establishing the hives in the first place.
The only word I can come up with is disappointment. I should be thankful, I should, and I am for the most part, but when I look out on the dry, barren land, it leaves me sullen and somber. It has been six months. Sometimes I think we should be in full operation by now, but then Trevor reminds me that we haven’t seen a full cycle here yet. It will happen, I’m sure it will. Perhaps when the summer sun cools a bit and the season drifts into autumn. Then I can dig holes for the garden and save up some water, the rabbits will appreciate cooler weather and will give me many babies, Freyja will be re-bred and I can use my new milking knowledge for good.
I feel like I am running behind and I can only hope that the end of summer will help me find a rhythm here on the new farm, here in Mountain Ranch, my new home.